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Drones ~ continued from February 2019 issue pdf page 1

DC No Drone Zone

The National Capital Region is governed by a Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) within a 30-mile radius of Reagan Washington National Airport, by which the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) restricts all flights in the greater DC area.

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Flying an unmanned aircraft within the 15-mile radius inner ring is prohibited without specific FAA authorization.

Flying a drone for recreational or non-recreational use between 15 and 30 miles from the District itself is allowed, but only under the following operating conditions:

Aircraft must weigh less than 55 pounds, including any attachments such as cameras; be registered and marked if it is not operated exclusively under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft; fly below 400 feet, within visual line-of-sight, in clear weather conditions, and not near other aircraft.

The airspace around Washington is more restricted than in any other part of the country. The National Defense Airspace Rules that were enacted following 9/11 attacks set operational limits; failure to comply can result in substantial fines and criminal penalties.

How does one legally fly an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) — i.e. drone — for work or business purposes? In 2016 the FAA issued guidelines for drone use for work and business somewhat clarifying the legal landscape. These rules relax some restrictions governing the line-of-sight and night time operation rules.

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The only DC agency that seems to be paying attention to drones is the Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment. However, the site does not direct users to anything other than referring to the FAA website’s drones page by informing that it “regularly monitors the activities of the FAA regarding Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or ‘Drones’. For the latest information regarding UAS, please visit the FAA’s UAS Integration Office (AFS-80) which is the Agency’s single point of contact for everything UAS. The UAS Integration Office collaboratively develops operating concepts, policies, requirements, criteria, and procedures for new system evaluations, integration, and implementation of emerging UAS technologies, and coordinates all UAS operational authorizations, including Certificate of Waiver or Authorizations (COAs) and Section 333 exemptions.”


Notwithstanding impediments facing businesses with legitimate need for using drones, real estate brokers seem to be in the forefront. As Martin Toews of the Martin & Jeff Group responded to our query as follows:

“Jeff [Brier] and I have never used drones in our business.

“If Drones were allowed you would see more agents offering aerial photos as part of their marketing package as they do in other cities. Miami Beach, for example, uses Drones [for] the higher bracket condos and home markets over $2 million.

“Drones give an entirely new prospective and overview of the property which is great when you’re shopping for a new home.”

And, Steve of Maggio Roofing in response to a customer request wondering why his company does not use drones, responded, “Drones are not allowed in DC.”

Fortunately, in 2018 the FAA proposed new rules for drones of less than 55 pounds in an effort to boost the growing drone industry. Those proposed rules may allow drones to fly over crowds and at night. They also call for enhanced operator training. The FAA also wants manufacturers to guarantee that marketing and instructional materials they use promote safety.

So, it is clear that in DC there is the impression that drones are completely banned. First, there needs to be clarification on this issue, and second, DC government as well as the FAA need to realize that the drone business is dramatically changing and the rules need to be dynamic. Policy makers need to ensure that different drone systems can co-exist and that there be tracking systems as there are vehicular traffic. If DC government (with cooperation by the FAA) cannot accommodate drones, will they be able to accommodate driverless vehicles?

*Larry Ray is Senior Adjunct Faculty at The George Washington University School of Law. He served as ANC Commissioner in both Dupont Circle and Columbia Heights.

Copyright © 2019 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Larry Ray. All rights reserved.