Operating your sUAS under Controlled Airspace

We're often asked how Small Unmanned Aircraft (sUAS) Pilots approach one-time operations that fall under Controlled Airspace, and whether it's entirely necessary to file a waiver or certificate of operation that will generally require time and patience to acquire.

The bottom line is that no matter the magnitude of your project production, both manned and unmanned aircraft within the same airspace need to know the whereabouts of one another at all times. Without following the proper precautions the level of risk is greatly increased. Open communication is key to providing successful aerial production services because it maintains piece of mind and basic human safety.

1. First things first... Check the Airspace of the location you are looking to fly under.

There are great applications online that will do most of the work for you when it comes to checking the Airspace as well as which Authority has jurisdiction over a specific area. Something to keep in mind when planning an Aerial Shoot is that you could encounter not only Controlled Airspace, but Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) and Restricted or Special Use Airspace (a.k.a No Drone Zones).

We recommend the following Airspace applications:

All Part 107 Pilots are required to have solid understanding of Sectional Aeronautical Charts. This is especially important if the sUAS is being operated within a busy urban zone where Controlled Airspace areas can overlap with others. The Pilot needs to know who to contact for clearance. The best practice for this scenario is to verify what the sUAS "ceiling" of operations is Above Ground Level (AGL) and find which Air Traffic Control (ATC) entity has control up to that point. In most cases, Airspace that overlaps with another has a surface (SFC) that can start thousands of feet AGL.

2. Apply for an FAA Certificate of Authorization (COA)

sUAS operators who want to fly outside the requirements of the Small UAS Rule (Part 107) may request a waiver and/or airspace authorization using the available form at the FAA Website.

You can find it at the link below:

When you are submitting your Airspace Authorization, make sure that you thoroughly explain how your sUAS Operations will be performed safely and emphasize any failsafe procedures that your aircraft includes (auto-return to home, low battery warning, etc...). Also, outline where your flight patterns will take place so that the Air Traffic Control Specialist that reviews your Application can understand that you will not be flying over people or anyone NOT directly involved with the shoot.

Submit the right Latitude and Longitude for your COA:

Providing the Latitude and Longitude is crucial during your application process as the FAA will need the exact coordinates in order to grant a COA.

An easy and trustworthy method to get the right Latitude and Longitude of your upcoming flight is to use GOOGLE MAPS. Simply click on the map where you plan to operate and the following box will pop-up:

At the bottom of your browser window you will see a simplified version of coordinates. Click once over the numbers and you will get the coordinates box in detail:

Now you have an accurate representation of your Latitude and Longitude. This is how this example would read:

Latitude: 33 Degrees, 49 Minutes, 28.9 Seconds, North
Longitude: 118 Degrees, 12 Minutes, 44.8 Seconds, West

If you would like to learn more about Latitude and Longitude, check out this video:

3. Plan ahead, your COA may take over a month to get approved.

It is common that sUAS Operators will get called last minute for an Aerial Shoot that's located under Controlled Airspace or a sensitive urban zone. All too often an Operator will "give in" and take the risk of flying without proper FAA Authorization or a "Notice of Commercial UAV Operations" form supplied to immediate neighbors.

A sUAS Pilot flying without Authorization under Controlled Airspace can face steep fines from the FAA and even jail time depending on the severity of the penalty. We highly recommend "educating" Clients about required steps are needed to fulfill their upcoming project goals. Limiting the risk and following proper precaution should always be your first priority because it protects not only the Client but your business as well. 

Please keep in mind that once you get your Part 107 license the FAA WANTS TO WORK WITH YOU so we can keep our National Airspace System safe for everyone. The sUAS Commercial Industry its still at an early stage, so its up to Aerial Production Businesses and Operators to keep the Community and Authorities feeling comfortable about your Aircraft operating nearby.

Currently, acquiring an Airspace COA takes some time, however the FAA has stated that in about a year we could be seeing an automated system (perhaps using the FAA B4UFLY app) developed that will allow sUAS Operators to be granted clearance to fly within minutes.

As a citizen and an sUAS Pilot, thank you for taking the proper steps to keep our communities safe, as well as strengthen our Airspace alliance.  

May You Always Have Safe & Successful Flights!

Rodolfo Bianchi
Chief Remote Pilot
LA Video Drone


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