Can you fly your drone within 5 miles of an airport?

Airmap drone no fly zones

The above image is a screenshot of the all the airports in my area and the 5 mile radius that surrounds them, taken from Airmap.io which is a website that allows operators to visualize the airspace around them to determine where they are permitted to fly.

When I first began flying my drone I thought I couldn’t fly it anywhere near my house because I live within 5 miles of a small local airport. I assumed that I would always have to drive far away way to fly but I eventually learned that is not the case. Once the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) posted more specific rules for UAV pilots it became clear that the 5 mile airport radius wasn’t a full-fledged no-fly zone. On the FAA’s website it states the following:

 “Don’t fly within 5 miles of an airport unless you contact the airport and control tower before flying”

The language from the FAA specifically states “unless you contact the airport” (for the record when I first started flying the rule use to be 3 miles). So the next time I went out to fly I contacted the control tower before I took off and this is how the conversation went:

Control Tower: Good afternoon Riverside Control Tower.

Me: Hello, I just wanted to ask permission to see if I could fly my UAV about 4 miles from the airport.

Control Tower: Well, you don’t have to ask permission but I will say we really appreciate you letting us know you’re flying in the area. Can you please tell us where you are flying exactly, what your max altitude will be and how long you’ll be flying?

Me: Yes of course. I will be flying 4 miles away (I provided the exact area), under 200ft for about 15 minutes.

Control Tower: All right, sounds good. Thanks for letting us know.

Me: Thank you.

This is how most of my phone conversations go with the control towers in my area, except I now don’t ask for permission. I just let them know. Sometimes they ask me to call back once I am done flying but this request varies.

I have had numerous calls with various control towers in my area and each time I am pleasantly surprised by how kind they are.

Initially I assumed they would be annoyed with me bothering them but based on my experience each control tower controller has been very kind and happy to hear that I am being a responsible UAV pilot following the rules, helping them to better control the skies in the area.

So if you want to fly responsibly within 5 miles of an airport always contact the airport control tower first! To get a control tower’s number check out Airmap.io, the free Hover smartphone app, or try Googling it. I have mostly had to call the general airport number and then ask the operator to connect me to the control tower or kindly give me the direct number. I now have all the local airport numbers saved in my phone so I can have quick access to them. Before you call the control tower be sure to have your exact location, planned max altitude and flight time info ready for them so they can quickly process your flight. Also, be sure to check an airport’s operating hours. Most of the small local airports in my area aren’t even open on Saturdays or Sundays.

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I personally don’t fly very close to any airports, I like to have a spotter to help me stay aware of any nearby air traffic and I don’t fly very high (usually under 200ft) just to play it extra safe since planes and helicopters come nowhere near this altitude except during landing. I highly recommend you establish some guidelines like mine for where you are going to fly and how high and don’t forget you must always fly your drone under 400ft no matter where you are.

I hope that this serves as another way to encourage drone pilots to be responsible and show others that the majority of us follow the rules and fly responsibly. If you want to learn more about all of the FAA’s drone rules then check out my post Drone Rules: Everything You Need to Know Before You Fly.

Lastly, if you enjoyed the post could you do me a HUGE favor and share it on social media for me? Just click the big social media icons. This blog is hobby and simply a labor a love and your support helps keep this website going!

Thank you!

Have a question or comment? Feel free to contact me directly at [email protected] or just drop a comment down below.

About the author
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Dirk Dallas, also known as @dirka online, is the founder and curator of From Where I Drone, a blog dedicated teaching drone pilots how to capture better aerial photos and videos.

 

 

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18 Comments on “Can you fly your drone within 5 miles of an airport?

  1. Using everything I have read, I too contacted my local control tower and talked to them about this. BTW, I am 4.9 miles away from the airport. They said they would not permit it. When I asked about the FAA rules, they said it did not matter. I was very polite and told him I understood…do I have any other choices?

    • Hi Jay,

      Wow, talk about just barely being out of the 5 mile range. Unfortunately, I am not sure there is. For the time being, until the FAA makes their 2016 summer announcement, I think it would just be best to wait.

    • I live 2.4 air miles from the ontario, CA airport. At sometime this month (May 2017)I contacted the traffic controller and was told I could not fly because I was within five miles. Not being satisfied with their response , I contacted a live person at the FAA. In essence I was told that the airport can deny me flying my drone at a specific time but they must provide a reason for the denial and offer an alternate flying time. I was pleasantly surprised at how curteous and helpful the FAA was.

    • Hi EM,

      I recommend you try to track down the airport manager. Some people have told me they have had success doing it that way.

  2. I am going to use some your suggestions above.

    I grew up next to the owner of a small cessna airport in Northern California. I called him up last week and asked for permission. He thanked me and said anytime is fine as long as I keep it under 400ft and out of the flight path for landing take off.

    Question, when considering the 5mile rule, is this from the tarmac or airport boundary it may seem a silly question but my fly zone is right on the cusp of the radius.

  3. When I called our local airport’s manager here in central CT, she stated “they did not allow it” (within 5 miles). When I pressed a little bit (and it wasn’t much), she told me they have no tower, or radar. Our town also has a chopper base at the medical center, which probably compounds the issue. Frustrating. The Airmap is a big help – although – you have to cross-reference with Google to see what is a park, and what is private land.

  4. Glad I live a good distance from the local airport and never really see a need to enter airport airspace. I have to just plan things out accordingly, and use your tools like Google Earth to map out 5 miles from your intended photography area. 400 feet up is 23 miles to the horizon, so we should be fine to avoid airport airspace.

  5. My area has so many airports and helipads, that my map has no white for miles in any direction. It’s pretty crazy. I live in Columbus, OH. I’ve read online that OSU has a drone club now and they fly at Tuttle Park, which is right down the street from me. That’s good to know. I just got my drone only a week ago and still haven’t really flown it yet much. Just straight up to about 30 meters and panned the camera around for a min and then came back down. I’ve done it in about 6 different areas (including up by the Cleveland area). I knew about not flying near airports but 5 miles is crazy when considering where I live. I got the app B4UFly and there’s an airport 5 miles apart for the entire mid Ohio region. I’ve been reading up a lot on it lately and im glad I know now though so I won’t get in trouble later on. The app let’s you jot down all the info needed before you call the tower too. Thanks for this post. Great information.

  6. This is a great article, Dirk!

    One question: what do you mean by the exact location of the flight? Street address, longitude and latitude?

    Thanks so much!

  7. I’m a private pilot who’s interested in doing more serious drone flying. The distance from the airport is always measured from the geographical center of the airport. The best way to describe your location to an ATC facility is to give a distance and heading FROM the airport (or simply say north, south, east or west). A heading of North would be 360, east 090, south 180, west 270. If you call an actual control tower they can add an advisory to the airports ATIS (automated terminal information service) which is updated every hour. Often the smaller airport towers do not operate 24 hours and you simply may not be able to reach anyone at an uncontrolled airport. If a controller tells you he cannot authorize a flight I think what he is really saying is that he does not issue clearances to drone aircraft. He’s not prohibiting you from flight it’s just not his job to regulate drones. So, the better way to approach it would probably be to simply advise him of drone activity location duration and altitude.

    It also wouldn’t hurt to read up a little on airport traffic pattern procedures and use common sense. airplanes usually fly the pattern at 1000’agl and helicopters 500’agl. AVOID THE APPROACH AND DEPARTURE ENDS OF THE RUNWAY!!!!

    Cheers
    Kyle

  8. I spoke with someone at Norcal TRACON today to get some clarification on what they expect. For airports that have controlled airspace down to the surface such as the class C & D airports (Ontario, Riverside and Chino above) they definitely want you to report in and get an ok.

    If you live within 5 miles of a little used uncontrolled airport in uncontrolled airspace stay below 400′ and follow the FAA guidelines.

    The controller I spoke with was very friendly and appreciated the co-operation from a UAV pilot.

  9. I just spoke with Orlando flight ops (MCO) and told them my flight plan, and the gentleman on the phone said their standard answer was to deny the flight request. He did not say I could not fly, he simply said they always deny any request for drone ops within 5mi of the airport. I’m not sure what to do, so I’m not going to risk it.

  10. So my airport’s regulation site has a no fly restriction for 2 miles. Can I safely fly my drone within 2 miles under 400 feet (I’d be actually more toward 3 miles away) or does the FAA trump my airports protocol?

    What do you all think?

  11. Blanket COAs. When the Section 333 exemption is granted, a “Blanket COA” is automatically issued to the proponent; this COA allows small UAS (less than 55 pounds) operations during daytime Visual Flight Rule (VFR) conditions at specific altitudes and outside of certain distances from airports and heliports. The Blanket COA allows the proponent to operate:
    (i) 5 nautical miles away from an airport with an operating control tower.
    (ii) 3 nautical miles from an uncontrolled airport with an instrument approach procedure.
    (iii) 2 nautical miles from all other airports, heliports and seaports.
    (iv) At or below 200 feet AGL.

    I have not discovered whether these same rules pertain to the Part 107 operations. Hobby rules are a bit different; rather than trying to educate hobbyists on these nuances, the FAA simply says 5 miles. The FAA won’t pursue you for flying in Class G airspace; but local law enforcement *might*.

    The FAA does not regulate airports per se (so far as I know), rather the FAA regulates air space. All towered airports have controlled airspace right down to the surface. Untowered airports with an instrumented approach (ILS for instance) have implied “Surface E” airspace (near as I can tell), untowered airports without instrument landings are in whatever airspace is shown on the sectional chart, often class G (“go!”). The way to tell is look for the airports directory or supplement and see if it is towered and/or instrumented (ILS).

    The faa.gov website has a place to request airspace waivers but you should file 90 days in advance. No waiver option exists for Class G, but you can ask for waivers for B,C,D and “Surface E”

    There’s nobody to actually ASK in the case of Class G; the burden is on you to “see and avoid” other aircraft that might be flying near that little podunk airstrip; but could also be crop dusting considerably lower than 400 feet. Small airports are everywhere. So while you might indeed be flying in Class G near an airstrip, some smart guy is likely to challenge you and you’ll need documented rules which aren’t all that easy to find.

    https://www.faa.gov/documentLibrary/media/Notice/N_JO_7210.889_Unmanned_Aircraft_Operations_in_the_NAS.pdf

    These rules expire October 26 2016 and will likely be replaced by new rules that clarify Part 107 operations and hobby operations.

  12. I wish we had responsible UAV ops like you guys over here in the UK! We have been getting reports of some very serious near-miss incidents lately!

  13. $rom my understansing the fa states that you have to to use a airspace portal to get ppermission to fly within the 5 mile radious and that you weren’t aloud to contact the airport of control tower directly. Or did it change?

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