FAA to use maps to speed drone consent, restricts military area ops

The United States is planning to release the first set of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) facility maps on April 27.

The maps will depict areas and altitudes near airports where UAS may operate safely and help drone operators improve the quality of their Part 107 airspace authorisation requests and will help the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) process these requests more quickly.

From April 27, users may access the facility maps at http://www.faa.gov/uas to download the data in several formats, view the site on mobile devices and customise their views.

By referring to the facility maps when completing airspace authorisation applications, remote pilots will be able to tailor their requests to align with locations and altitudes that the maps indicate are likely to be approved for small UAS operations. This FAA said this will help simplify the process and increase the likelihood that it will approve their requests.

FAA air traffic personnel will use the maps to process Part 107 airspace authorisation requests. Altitudes that exceed what are depicted on the maps require additional safety analysis and coordination to determine if an application can be approved.

The FAA said the maps will be informational only, that they do not automatically authorise flights and that remote pilots must still submit online airspace authorisation applications.

“The maps also do not guarantee approval for requests within the guidelines indicated by the maps. Only the FAA can grant controlled airspace access, which must be done through the authorization process,” it said.

The agency is releasing the maps in phases, with the first release on April 27 containing approximately 200 facility maps, as the first step in streamlining the airspace authorisation process. The FAA plans to release facility maps over the next 12 months. Updates to the maps database will coincide with the agency’s existing 56-day aeronautical chart production schedule. If a map is not yet available, it can be expected in future releases.

The FAA said its website will be updated within the several weeks with additional guidance and information about the facility maps.

Last week the FAA said it was using its existing authority under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) § 99.7 – “Special Security Instructions” – to address national security concerns about unauthorised drone operations over 133 military facilities.

This is the first time the agency has instituted airspace restrictions that specifically apply only to unmanned aircraft, popularly known as “drones.” The authority under § 99.7 is limited to requests based on national security interests from the Department of Defense and US federal security and intelligence agencies.

The FAA and the Department of Defense have agreed to restrict drone flights up to 400 feet within the lateral boundaries of these 133 facilities. The restrictions will be effective April 14, 2017.There are only a few exceptions that permit drone flights within these restrictions, and they must be coordinated with the individual facility and/or the FAA.

Operators who violate the airspace restrictions may be subject to enforcement action, including potential civil penalties and criminal charges.

To ensure the public is aware of these restricted locations, the FAA has created an interactive map online. The link to these restrictions is also included in the FAA’s B4UFLY mobile app.

Section 2209 of the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 also directs the Secretary of Transportation to establish a process to accept petitions to prohibit or restrict UAS operations over critical infrastructure and other facilities. The Department of Transportation and the FAA are currently evaluating options to implement such a process.

The FAA is considering additional requests from federal security and intelligence agencies for restrictions using the FAA’s § 99.7 authority as they are received

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