It can be overwhelming to look through a full list of drone rules and regulations. I want to assure you that the rules can be easy to follow, that you can get out and have some fun. For today, however, let’s talk about the places that you cannot fly. We call these no-fly zones, but the FAA likes the term “no drone zone.”
This is a partial list of restricted airspace in the United States, please check all the applicable property rules in your area, as well as check what FAA airspace rules exist in your area.
Why trust Drone Rush?
I’ve been a fan of flight since a young age; while I’ve had few opportunities at the helm of manned aircraft, the hours on my fleet of drones continue to grow. I enjoy putting cameras into the sky, silky smooth aerial imagery makes me happy. My goal is to help all pilots enjoy flight legally and safely.
Who is in control of the sky?
First of all, I want to say a few things about the laws of the sky. The FAA is in control of airspace. The FAA is in control of ALL airspace. Yes, all of it, the entire country and more. Your local community, city, county, state and even the federal government has no authority over the sky. (We are ignoring that the federal government has authority over the FAA, but that’s beside our point. Also, I wouldn’t mess with the military if they want to implement some rules, but still, the FAA is top dog.)
Related reading: No, you can’t shoot drones over your property
So, you checked that the FAA says it’s fair game to fly over your local park, are you good to go? No. While your craft can enjoy airtime anywhere the FAA says it’s okay, you may be trespassing on the ground to fly at that park. You may be slapped with a noise pollution ticket for flying there as well.
In effect, no matter who says you cannot fly somewhere, it’s probably best to not fly there. I just want you to know your rights in the air, you answer only to the FAA in terms of where your drone can fly.
Things to know before you fly: Drone Laws
A quick side note, please take this to heart:
If your drone has a camera, your drone is a camera.
All privacy laws are in place. You cannot take photos of your neighbors in their backyard while using a hand-held camera, don’t start thinking it’s okay to do it now with a flying camera. You and I know that the wide-angle lens on a typical drone does not capture humans very well at any distance, but most people don’t know that. Respect privacy, respect personal space.
Related reading: Best camera drones
There are a number of established no-fly zones in the United States. Most are very common sense, no matter how annoying. Let’s take a look at a few.
In addition to any and all of the below, the FAA may enact a TFR (Temporary Flight Restrictions) anywhere, at any time. These restrictions override all other airspace rules for the affected area, restricting all unauthorized flights for a specified period of time. You will see most TFRs put in place to keep air traffic away from outdoor sporting events, emergency situations, construction sites, military operations, and similar situations where general air traffic would either interfere with important operations, or cause undue risk to others.
Did I have to tell you this? I hope not. You can get waivers and authorization to fly over or near airports, but for the most part, you cannot fly at airports or in flight paths.
I’ll remind you that flying within 5 miles of an airport requires you to take some steps before you fly. Learn more about that in our FAA drone laws series.
Update 2019: The FAA has removed the basic 5 mile rule and replaced it with a controlled airspace rule. Check your airspace through B4UFly, Airmap or the KittyHawk apps, then use one of the latter two to request LAANC authorization to fly in the controlled zones.
Resource: Airspace Map
The White House
The area above and around The White House is a no-fly zone. The Secret Service takes no risks in protecting The President and the privacy of the nation, don’t put them to the test. Flying within 15 miles of the general Washington DC area will get you some fines, you may see jail time or worse.
Again, too bad, The White House could be an amazing place to fly a drone. I can only imagine the superb photographs.
Let’s keep this one simple, the Goodyear Blimp, and maybe a few fighter jets, are essentially the only flying machines allowed above a sporting event. This is primarily to protect the hordes of people below – you recall that you cannot fly over top of people, right?
This also protects the IP of the sporting event. Once again, if your drone has a camera, it is a camera, and cameras are not allowed into paid sporting venues.
The FAA wants you to respect animals. There are many places across the country that are designated wildlife areas, over which you won’t be flying your drone. More specifically, the FAA mandates a minimum altitude of 2,000 feet AGL for all aircraft.
Since your drone flight is limited to 400 feet above the ground, you will not be flying in designated wildlife areas. Sure, there are some caveats, but aside from those rare cases, no flights.
Once a forest or wild fire gets to the level that manned aircraft will get involved in the fire-fighting and life-saving efforts, the FAA will enact a temporary flight restriction for the area. This flight restriction goes for all aircraft. Whether flying a drone or an airplane, if you are not a part of the fire-fighting operation, you cannot fly around a fire. Like it or not, the manned aircraft that participate in wild fire operations will divert if there is a drone in the area. You can be held liable for any lives lost or extra acres burned if your drone prevents a manned craft from performing a crucial task.
Read more: FAA warning – don’t fly around fires
The FAA originally allowed drone usage within range of military bases. It was not exactly encouraged and there were other limitations on flights in these security sensitive areas, but the FAA allowed it. That has changed.
Nearly all military bases are now restricted airspace for drones. This includes the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, National Guard and more. Aside from the security concerns, you never know when a low flying, high-speed military craft is about to buzz over.
Related reading: Best military drones
Prisons and other correctional facilities
I’m sure you’ve read the stories about drones being used to drop contraband to inmates at prisons. Ignoring how illegal that is on its own, flying over correctional institutions is now illegal itself.
Just another example of a few bad actors ruining it for the rest of us. Not that flying over top of a prison is on my list of things to do, but, because someone used a drone to break a law, the rest of us are restricted.
The FAA has added some DOD facilities to the areas you cannot fly, in August 2018, they specifically added a few facilities in St. Louis. Not all DOD facilities are currently no-fly zones, but you know what they say about being safe or being sorry? We recommend you at least do some homework about your area before taking to the sky.
Non-FAA drone restrictions
The Federal government decided the FAA’s wildlife refuge flight limitations were not enough to protect the wild. All National Parks in the United States have banned drones.
As much as I agree with this law, it is one of the hardest to accept. Here are the most beautiful elements of our country, some of the most epic and photogenic bits of nature around, and we cannot bring our favorite camera to photograph them.
Please note, but do not push your luck, the airspace above National Parks are controlled by the FAA. A park ranger can certainly fine you with trespassing and disturbing the peace etc. if you, yourself, are within Park bounds. If you are outside of park bounds and fly your drone over top of the park, you are not breaking FAA rules, nor are you trespassing, but you can still get tagged with noise complaints.
Special note: As a knowledgeable reader pointed out for us, National Parks and National Forests are not the same thing, most National Forests follow the National Park drone laws, but check their websites, you might be able to fly!
Most State Parks
This is a state-by-state basis, and sometimes a park-by-park basis, but many State Parks are no fly zones. The same rules apply as for the National Parks – the FAA controls the airspace, the park authority can issue fines such as trespassing or noise pollution.
I cannot speak to many cities in the U.S. specifically, but the greater Portland, OR metro area has restricted drone flight over schoolyards. Primarily this is to eliminate flight over people, to protect children from a potential falling object.
Also, there are many cultural sensitivities when it comes to mixing strangers with cameras and children. I wholly support this limitation. I vote to always protect the children. However, when children are not present, I do wish we could use the open fields of schoolyards to fly our drones.
Some city parks
As a preemptive strike, many cities across the country have banned drones. We respect the goal of protecting people on the ground, but this really is the hardest restriction for hobby pilots. Where does one fly safely if not in an open field? And where does one find an open field that is not a city park or private property?
That’s right, I do not like this rule. I respect it, and I will never fly over top of people, but I really wish my city would allow me to fly in the park.
We say this every year, but there will be major flight restrictions for every Super Bowl and similar outdoor sporting event.
For Super Bowl LV on February 7th, 2021:
- Game day – Starting at 10:00am local time, you may not fly within 1 mile of the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
- Game time – Starting at 5:30pm local time, you may not fly within 30 miles of the stadium.
- Game week – From Jan 29 to Feb 6 during event hours, you may not fly within 2 miles of either Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park or Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.
Violation of these flight restrictions are subject to civil penalties that exceed $30,000, and potential criminal prosecution. For the full list of affected areas, check out the FAA Super Bowl page, and the TFR listings.
How do I know where I can fly?
Aside from the basics we’ve covered as we ran down the FAA drone rules, there are two apps (at least) that we think you should have installed for pre-flight organization. The FAA has built the app B4UFly, it’s a bit of a cumbersome app, but if there is an airport or other authority nearby that you need to call before you fly, this app will help you find it. Around here, we rely on AirMap. AirMap is not the definitive guide or authority over airspace, so you have to do your FAA info research, but AirMap has proven very accurate for us, and much easier to use.
Frequently Asked Questions
So many restrictions, where can I actually fly my drone?
It can all look overwhelming, and there are certainly restrictions that we wish did not exist, but it’s much easier to find a place to fly than you might think. The first thing you should do is look around your world, find a place that makes logical sense to fly, like your local park. Who owns that park, do they have drone restrictions? Once you know you have a safe place to take off from, hit the airspace map to see if it’s legal to fly there. Remember, you may need to acquire authorization to fly before you take-off, it’s best to acquire that right before you fly. Now go, fly safe.
My drone weighs less than 0.55 lbs, I don’t have to register it, doesn’t that mean I can fly anywhere?
Sorry, no. According to the FAA, anything in the sky is a part of the National Airspace System (NAS.) It doesn’t matter if you are only flying a tiny toy just two feet off the ground in your backyard, that is still FAA jurisdiction and subject to the rules. The FAA is not