On April 27, 2017, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) plans to release the first set of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) facility maps. The maps will depict areas and altitudes near airports where UAS may operate safely allowing the remote pilots to tailor their Part 107 airspace authorization requests to align with locations and altitudes that the maps indicate are likely to be approved for small UAS operations.

FAA air traffic personnel will subsequently use the maps to process Part 107 airspace authorization requests, which will help the FAA process the requests more expeditiously. However, proposed operations at altitudes that exceed those depicted on the maps may require additional safety analysis and coordination by the FAA to determine if an application can be approved. Additionally, the maps are for informational purposes only and do not automatically authorize flights. Commercial operators must still submit an airspace authorization and/or waiver request to the FAA.

The FAA intends to release the maps in phases with the April 27 release containing approximately 200 facility maps. The FAA plans to release additional facility maps over the next 12 months coinciding with the agency’s existing 56-day aeronautical chart production schedule.

FAA Further Restricts UAS Operations Over Certain Military Bases

Effective April 14, 2017, the FAA announced it will be using its existing authority under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations section 99.7 – “Special Security Instructions” – to address national security concerns about unauthorized UAS operations over 133 military facilities. Specifically, the FAA and the Department of Defense (DOD) have agreed to restrict UAS flights up to 400 feet within the lateral boundaries of these 133 facilities. Operators who violate the airspace restrictions may be subject to enforcement action, including potential civil penalties and criminal charges.

In addition to the resources provided by the UAS facility maps previously discussed, commercial operators can reference an interactive map on the FAA’s website or the B4UFLY mobile app to ensure they are aware of newly added airspace restrictions over US military facilities.

While the FAA’s authority under 14 C.F.R. § 99.7 is limited to requests based on national security interests from the DOD and US federal security and intelligence agencies, Section 2209 of the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 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 (DOT) and FAA are currently evaluating options to implement such processes.

As the DOT and FAA enact procedures under Section 2209, Steptoe‘s UAS team is prepared to assist stakeholders of critical infrastructure and other facilities in developing and submitting petitions for consideration.