Earlier this month, the FAA clarified the rules for small UAS (“sUAS”) operations in the Washington, D.C. area.

The FAA released a Notice to Airmen (“NOTAM”) effective February 10, outlining the rules for operations in the outer ring of the Special Flight Rules Area (“SFRA”), an area 15 to 30 miles away from Washington, D.C. UAS operations within 15 miles of Washington, D.C. remain prohibited without specific FAA authorization, because that airspace has been designated as National Defense Airspace, under 49 U.S.C. 40103(B)(3).

Commercial sUAS operators must have an FAA section 333 exemption to operate within the outer ring of SFRA airspace between 15 and 30 miles from Washington, D.C., and must comply with the conditions contained therein. Commercial operators must also notify the FAA an hour before operating to provide specific flight information. These same rules to apply to public operations by federal, state or local governments.

The NOTAM also permits sUAS operations for hobbyist and recreational pilots in the area between 15 and 30 miles of Washington, D.C. Operations for recreational sUAS pilots in that SFRA-governed airspace must follow the FAA-specified conditions for recreational operations, including:

  • Registering the aircraft through the FAA online database;
  • Proper marking of registration numbers on the aircraft;
  • Keeping the aircraft within the operator’s line of sight;
  • Flying only in clear, daytime conditions;
  • Operating 400 feet or lower above ground level; and
  • Not interfering with manned aircraft.

Additionally, if recreational pilots intend to operate within five miles of an airport or heliport, the operator must notify the airport, heliport and air traffic control tower before operating.