As part of an extended no-fly zone for drones surrounding the nation’s capital, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has put a stop to at least 36 drone clubs in Washington DC. The FAA extended the previous no-fly zone of a 15 mile radius surrounding the city’s airport to a 30 mile radius.
The FAA says that issues of national security and airspace safety are the main reasons for the extension of the no-fly zone in Washington DC. The administration refers to this area as a “Special Flight Rules Area” (SFRA). The extension of this area has already attracted a large amount of criticism, as the majority of the drone clubs that are affected have existed for many years without any safety violations. The FAA has not said whether or not these sites would ever be allowed to resume operations.
Many of the clubs that are affected exist in large fields that are miles outside of Washington DC. Of the 36 sites that have been shut down, 14 are accredited by the Academy of Model Aircrafts (AMA). This ensures that they are proven to be fully compliant with safety guidelines and that they are not located near any airports.
The recreational drone scene in Washington DC is one of the largest in the country, with the most notable organization being the DC Drone User Group. With the new policy, this group is severely threatened. The DC Drone User Group has regular meetups in large fields to introduce people to the hobby of flying drones. President of the DC Drone User Group Christopher Vo is extremely disappointed by the mandate from the FAA.
Vo said, “In 2016 we're going to try to do more indoor flying events to get around DC area restrictions because the demand is so high to find a place to fly. Many of these fields could be down and out for many more months to come.”
Last week, the FAA sent a message to the AMA stating that all drone operating sites within a 30 mile radius of Washington National Airport were to be shut down. Representatives of the FAA have stated that flying drones in this area is illegal, and they want the notice to spread throughout the regional model aircraft community. Officials have said that they will prosecute anyone found to be in violation of this law.
Since receiving the message from the FAA, the AMA has informed the 14 independently owned and operated clubs that are affected by the policy. The AMA stressed that it was important that they do not personally contact the FAA. Ultimately, the AMA believes that the policy is not permanent.
The AMA said in a message to its members, “We have every reason to believe that this is a temporary situation. Persons operating aircraft within the SFRA are subject to civil penalties and or criminal charges.”
Since then, several drone clubs have posted notices on their respective websites and Facebook pages stating that their operations have been indefinitely suspended. The AMA has stated that it expects the FAA to allow the clubs to resume operations sometime around mid-January. The FAA has made no indication that it intends to lift the policy for recreational drone operators.