“This marks a key first step as the FAA and industry work together to automate the airspace authorization process,” says the FAA. “The maps will help drone operators improve the quality of their Part 107 airspace authorization requests and help the FAA process the requests more quickly.”
The maps show areas and altitudes near airports where UAS may operate safely, but the FAA cautions that they are meant as a guide: drone operators still need FAA authorization to fly in those areas. UAS Facility Maps (UASFMs) are the same maps used by FAA processors, and display the maximum altitude that a processor may approve “without additional internal FAA coordination.” (Requests to operate over those altitudes may still be approved, but would require further review within the FAA.) The altitudes were determined collaboratively with local Air Traffic Control staff, says the FAA, and decisions were based on “manned aviation approach and departure procedures, aircraft and helicopter operations, and a variety of other factors to determine where small UAS operations could operate safely.”
“The maps assist drone operators in determining if an operation can be done in a particular location by showing the maximum allowable altitude that can be approved by a reviewer in DC,” clarifies noted drone attorney Jonathan Rupprecht, also a commercial drone pilot and flight instructor. “If you see a 0 then you won’t be approved unilaterally by a reviewer in DC, but if you see a number, this is the highest altitude that the reviewer has been approved by the airport for the reviewer to unilaterally approve for.”
“You’ll still need an authorization because these maps won’t be a substitute for an authorization,” says Rupprecht. “In short, these maps are aiding you to get airborne, not authorizing your to get airborne.”
The maps should assist, however, in streamlining the process by allowing pilots insight into the FAA’s criteria. “Remote pilots can refer to the maps to tailor their requests to align with locations and altitudes when they complete airspace authorization applications,” says the FAA. “This will help simplify the process and increase the likelihood that the FAA will approve their requests.
FAA air traffic personnel will use the maps to process Part 107 airspace authorization requests.”
The UASFMs published this week are all Class E airspace, but the FAA says that more will be published every 56 days throughout the year. FAA plans to release more than 900 maps in total. “Maps are being released using a risk-based phased implementation approach,” says the FAA. “This approach permits the FAA time to carefully review the impact of releasing maps, identify potential safety implications, and address potential problems quickly if identified.”
Recreational drone operators are still required to notify airports and the air traffic control (if present) before flying within 5 miles of an airport.