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FAA enforces no-drone boundaries over D.C.

Published: January 7, 2016
The Federal Aviation Administration has increased the radius around Washington, D.C., where drones are not allowed to fly from 15 to 30 miles. This no-fly area is called National, a zone where communications between aircraft and air-traffic control at Reagan National Airport has been required since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The FAA is now informing aircraft clubs, including those associated with the Academy of Model Aeronautics, that they must abide by these restrictions.

Although these new boundaries have been in effect since September 2015, many model aircraft enthusiasts did not realize the new restrictions applied to them. “A lot of people felt that was kind of an error, that they had kind of lumped us in with regular aircraft outside of the 15-mile radius,” said Dom Perez, coordinator of the Soaring Association. “The FAA came to the AMA and said, ‘No, it’s not an error, and you need to tell your clubs to shut down.’”

According to the FAA, too many drones have lately have been flying into the special flight rules area. “We are asking for your help in spreading the word to the National Capitol Region model aircraft community that such activity is subject to enforcement action, and could damage our efforts to secure the interagency concurrence that is critical to this effort," said Brian Throop, manager of the FAA’s special operations security group, in a memo sent to model aircraft clubs.

Because the AMA has pushed responsible flying for 80 years, it did not ask its members to abide by the 30-mile prohibition until its clubs received this recent advisory. “AMA understands that these restrictions are part of the security measures put in place to protect the U.S. Capitol and the Academy supports the government’s efforts to protect our national interests,” said Rich Hanson, government relations representative for the AMA. “However, model airplanes and model aircraft enthusiasts do not pose a threat to national security but rather assist in the counterterrorism effort by serving as a community of eyes and ears familiar with the operation of unmanned aircraft and watchful of aberrant behavior.”

Model aircraft enthusiasts are currently waiting to hear if these flying restrictions are permanent or if the FAA and AMA can reach a mutually beneficial agreement.