Airspace Authorizations

Depending on an airport’s size and purpose, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) imposes different limitations on drone flying within certain areas near the airport. Some airports have no limitations. Some airports have varying limitations depending on how close you are to the airport.

LAANC

Many US airports are included in a system (happens to be called LAANC) that allows drone pilots to request airport authorizations up to certain altitudes (depending on proximity to the airport). Generally, the authorizations are automatic, but not always. Sometimes LAANC is “down,” and sometimes a control tower won’t grant permission to a drone operator. The effectiveness of this system has improved in recent years so LAANC approval is relatively straightforward to obtain. At FnGravity, we request LAANC approval days in advance of a flight to virtually eliminate last minute hiccups in the system.

DJI Unlocking

In addition, most drone pilots use drones from DJI as we do at F(n)Gravity. Flying near airports that have any FAA limitations require an “unlock” from DJI. Otherwise the drone cannot take off.

Generally, the DJI unlocking process works. At FnGravity, we request DJI unlocking well in advance of a flight just in case.

This is the airspace around Dulles Airport (IAD) in Northern Virginia. Each box is 1/4 mile x 1/4 mile and the number in each box is the highest altitude above ground that a drone can fly. The LAANC system can automatically enable a drone pilot to receive authorization to fly up to the max. Click on the image to see a larger version.

F(n)Gravity’s Experience

What happens when LAANC isn’t available for a specific airport or when a flight requires us to fly higher than the permitted “grid” altitude? F(n)Gravity has experience obtaining FAA approvals for many airports in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Historically, these airports have included:

  • Dulles (IAD)
  • BWI
  • Center City Airport PA (CXY)
  • Charlottesville VA (CHO)
  • Dover AFB (DOV)
  • Easton MD (EAS)
  • Frederick MD (FDK)
  • Hagerstown MD (HGR)
  • Hampton VA (Langley AFB LFI)
  • Hot Springs VA (HSP)
  • Harrisburg PA (MDT)
  • Lancaster PA (LNS)
  • Lynchburg VA (LYH)
  • Manassas VA (HEF)
  • Martin State MD (MTN)
  • Martinsburg WV (MRB)
  • NE Philadelphia PA (PNE)
  • Newport News VA (PHF)
  • Norfolk VA (ORF)
  • Oceana Naval VA (NTU)
  • Patuxent River MD (NHK)
  • Philadelphia PA (PHL)
  • Quantico VA (NYG)
  • Richmond VA (RIC)
  • Roanoke VA (ROA)
  • Salisbury MD (SBY)
  • Shenandoah VA (SHD)
  • Wilmington DE (ILG)
  • York PA (THV)

See the next section below to see how we address flights near DC’s Reagan National Airport (DCA).

DC No Fly Zone…YES We Can!

Flying drones within 15 miles of Washington’s Reagan National Airport (DCA) has a unique set of limitations. Some people (including many drone pilots) are under the impression that drone flights this close to DCA is just not possible.

Three Zones

There are actually three different areas with different restrictions in the DC area.

  1. The area with the tighest restrictions is within 7 miles of DCA. Drones are permitted in this area only if the flight has a governmental purpose and a governmental sponsor. Not impossible, but pretty limited!‌ To fly in this area, the TSA requires the employment of a Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) as well as a second person (not the pilot) to communicate with the TSA during the flight.
  2. Next most restrictive is the area between 7 and 15 miles of DCA. Generally flights in this area CAN happen by a licensed commercial drone pilot. The TSA does NOT require a Law Enforcement Officer (LEO), but it does require that there is a second person (not the pilot) on site to communicate with the TSA during the flight. There is an extensive application process to the TSA and the FAA required. F(n)Gravity has applied for flights in this area for local businesses, colleges, and individuals. We’ve formalized our process to obtain approval including the creation of the flight charts required by the TSA. Thus far, we’ve received approval each time we’ve asked. Please contact us if you have a drone need in this area. In all likelihood, we can do this flight for you.‌
  3. The least restrictive area is a flight restriction zone that is outside the 15-mile ring around DCA. Flight in this area is limited by the rules surrounding the airports in the area and really fits into the authorization discussion above. For example, Dulles Airport (IAD) is within the least restrictive area. Essentially, the TSA is not involved, but the FAA has limitations for where drone flying is possible and it becomes more restrictive as you get closer to the airport.

So if you have a need in the restricted area around DC, don’t give up. We will help you figure out if a flight is possible and what steps will be needed to make it happen.