The FAA dealt a serious blow to hobby drone pilots when they released these new rules that restrict them from flying in controlled airspace over many American cities. Hobby drone pilots were allowed to fly in controlled airspace with a notification to air traffic control, or by flying at an AMA Field.

FAA no longer allows hobby drone pilots to fly in controlled airspace

Now, hobby drone pilots are no longer allowed to fly in any controlled airspace unless they are flying at an approved CBO field. 

While these new rules were expected after President Trump signed the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, the new system the FAA released has everyone scratching their heads as it makes NO SENSE.   

Why? I will explain. The FAA recently posted the new rules essentially eliminating access to controlled airspace for hobby or “recreational,” drone pilots. The only reason they are eliminating access for recreational pilots is due to the order of operations the FAA released.

With these new rules, the FAA states recreational drone pilots can fly in controlled airspace with FAA authorization or at an approved field. The FAA expects hobby drone pilots to utilize the LAANC system to acquire authorization to fly in controlled airspace, which I discovered last month.

The only problem is, the LAANC system is not available for hobby drone pilots, meanwhile, the FAA instructed Air Traffic Control Tower Managers not to approve authorizations.  Without a system to allow for hobby drone pilots to fly in controlled airspace, the FAA is eliminating access to controlled airspace for hobby pilots until the LAANC system is available. (Coming Summer 2019…supposedly)

While Drone pilots can fly at approved AMA fields, many of the AMA (or community-based organization) fields are not listed on the FAA’s map. The reason why many of the traditional AMA fields do not show up on the FAA map is due to two issues. Either the field didn’t meet the requirements (2 miles from runway pavement and not in 0 grid), or the field manager didn’t send the info the FAA.

So where can recreational drone pilots actually fly?

  1. Class G Airspace
    1. View G Airspace on this FAA Map
    2. View Airspace on a Sectional Map here
    3. View airspace on mobile via this app
  2. FAA Approved Fields Inside of Controlled Airspace
    1. View here, and turn on the layer pictured below.

where hobby drone pilots can fly

With limited field sites, and an airspace authorization system that doesn’t exist, the FAA just essentially put a de-facto ban on all hobby flights in controlled airspace.

In the future, hobby pilots will be able to file for airspace authorization via the LAANC system. There are many apps that use LAANC, and we expect DJI to roll it out in the DJI GO app this summer.

Will hobby drone pilots comply with this new airspace restriction?

This has been the question, I’ve been discussing with all the industry insiders and friends. We don’t believe that many of the hobby drone pilots will comply with these new rules for two very simple reasons.

  1. They don’t know that they can’t fly anymore. And, they’ve been flying in these areas already for a long time.
  2. Little to zero FAA enforcement. We’ve had many podcasts on Ask Drone U about FAA enforcement, and since the last FOIA request, there was actually less enforcement.
    1. With that said, the FAA just implemented a new training protocol that could allow for increased enforcement.

Now, if the FAA enforces this restriction on hobby drone flights, it could actually give temporary power to Part 107 operators as only they could garnish authorization to fly in controlled airspace. It will be interesting to see how the industry unfolds this year, especially as the FAA denies any small business owner or actual drone pilot to be on the Drone Advisory Committee of the FAA.

There are some who believe the FAA may be in danger of losing authority and credibility. Recent issues with the Boeing Max, and how they are handling the new hobby rules isn’t helping the FAA’s case. The agency will need that credibility if they expect to have influence over the UAS community, whether it is the hobby or commercial side of that community.

Check out every detail in Vic Moss’ legal breakdown.

Paul Aitken

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