The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has declared the area around Washington, D.C., as a “No Drone Zone.”
The agency’s public outreach campaign, launched in May 2015, is timed to coincide with the start of the summer tourist season and follows several cases of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) use near high-profile Washington landmarks, including The White House.
Also known as unmanned aerial systems (UAS), the vehicles can be as small as a dinner plate and buzz through the air at speeds of up to 100 mph. The ability to fly the vehicles through tight, low-altitude space without being detected by radar raises security concerns.
Shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government began putting rules in place to establish national defense airspace over the D.C. area. All aircraft operations are limited to those authorized by the FAA and the Transportation Security Administration. F-16 fighter jets have been scrambled from nearby Andrews Air Force Base to intercept small, general aviation aircraft that inadvertently entered the area.
The rules also apply to UAV, and violators can face fines and criminal penalties.
The No Drone Zone applies to airspace over the nation’s capital and within a 15-mile radius of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which is located on the west bank of the Potomac River in neighboring Arlington, Virginia, home of the Pentagon and other military and national security operations.
Incidents of UAVs in the District of Columbia have become more common as the technology continues to penetrate the general marketplace. In March, a man lost control of the recreational quadcopter he was flying and the vehicle crashed on the lawn of The White House. Just a day before the FAA announced the No Drone Zone campaign, the Secret Service stopped another operator flying a UAV over Lafayette Square, a public park in front of the executive mansion.
The FAA began overseeing UAVs more than two decades ago, including their use for search and rescue missions, border patrol, scientific research and other public missions. In 2013, the agency started authorizing test sites to monitor UAV use for commercial purposes. It has begun allowing such flights for aerial surveying in the energy industry, utility inspections, and TV and film production.
To make sure residents and tourists understand that flying a UAV in the National Capital Region for any purpose is against the law, the FAA is offering local and state agencies a digital toolkit of No Drone Zone outreach materials, including posters and handout cards.
The FAA also expects to release a smartphone app this year that will warn operators about where they can and cannot legally operate UAVs.