FAA Announces First Ever Drone-Specific Airspace Restrictions

On April 7, 2017, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it would use its preexisting authority under 14 C.F.R. § 99.7 to “address national security concerns about unauthorized drone operations over 133 military facilities.”  The new restrictions seek to keep unauthorized drone operators from flying in, near, or over military facilities.  Failure to comply with the restrictions could result in civil and criminal penalties.  Generally speaking, drone operators are required to adhere to a plethora of airspace restrictions when flying near populated areas and/or airports.  The FAA’s recent announcement effectively extends these rules to the airspace near these 133 military facilities.  In the new restrictions, the FAA and the Department of Defense (DOD) have agreed to restrict drone flights up to 400 feet within the lateral boundaries of these 133 facilities.  To see the actual affected areas, the FAA and DOD have created this interactive map for operators to consult.

Though it may not be a surprise that the FAA and DOD are interested in keeping the United States’ military facilities secure, it is a bit surprising (and perhaps concerning) that the FAA is only now addressing drone operations near military facilities.   One would think that such regulations and restrictions would have been a high priority for both the FAA and the DOD once drone operations became ubiquitous in today’s drone-centric culture.

In any event, these restrictions, which go into effect on April 14, 2017, are notable as they represent the first set of airspace restrictions that apply specifically, and solely, to drones.  Given that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has yet to prosecute a criminal action against a non-compliant drone operator, it seems as if national security may be the context in which a case rises to the level of DOJ concern.  We will continue to watch whether the FAA’s “culture of compliance” renders these restrictions inconsequential, or whether this set of restrictions (finally) forces the DOJ to address this new subset of aviators.