FAA Eases Drone Restrictions in Washington, DC

The FAA will allow drones to operate between a 15- to 30-mile radius outside of Washington, DC, but anything within that 15-mile radius is still off limits.

It’s been tough sledding for drone hobbyists in Washington, D.C., but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is easing its restrictions.

After doubling the radius of the “no-drone zone” from 15 miles to 30 miles outside of Washington, D.C. in September 2015, the FAA announced drones can now fly in the “outer ring” of the Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA). This means drones can operate between a 15- to 30-mile radius outside of the nation’s capitol, but anything within the 15-mile radius is still off limits without approval. Essentially we’re back to where we were before September 2015.

The drones that fly between the 15- to 30-mile radius still have to operate under specific conditions, of course:

  • The drones must weigh less than 55 pounds
  • The drones must be registered and marked
  • And the drones must fly 400 feet or lower at all times, stay in the operator’s line of sight, only fly in clear conditions, and avoid other aircraft

If hobbyists intend to operate within five miles of an airport or heliport, the new procedures also require them to notify the airport, heliport and air traffic control tower, if there is one, before operating.

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Commercial and other non-model aircraft operators must register and mark their unmanned aircraft, must have an exemption and comply with it, and must notify the FAA an hour before operating to provide specific flight information.

Public operators, such as federal, state or local governments, must also register and mark their aircraft, must have the appropriate FAA authorization to operate, and must complete the same one-hour notification before operating.

Rules put in place after the 9/11 attacks established “national defense airspace” over the DC area and limited aircraft operations to those with an FAA and Transportation Security Administration authorization. There were three drones that crashed near the White House in 2015:

Oct. 9: Howard Solomon III was given a criminal citation for flying a F182 6 Axis Quadcopter near the Washington Monument and crashing on the Ellipse, a grassy area outside of the security perimeter near the White House South Lawn.

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May 14: The White House was briefly placed on lockdown after a man tried to fly a drone near the building. The drone was near the north fence line of the White House, but never crossed it.

Jan. 26: A drunken, off-duty government employee crashed a DJI Phantom drone into the White House grounds. The small drone evaded White House radar that is calibrated to warn of much bigger threats.

The FAA’s doubling of the “no-drone zone” was an unpopular move with the Academy of Modern Aircraft (AMA), which helps drone clubs stay in compliance with safety guidelines and remain a safe distance from airports. The 30-mile restriction forced many of those clubs to immediately close. Maybe some of those clubs will be able to re-open under these new procedures, but we’ll have to wait and see.

About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
Contact Steve Crowe: scrowe@ehpub.com  ·  View More by Steve Crowe.


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