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UAS Law Alert – App Creates Headaches for Airports

FAA Launch of UAS B4UFLY Mobile App Creates New Headaches for Airport Operators

Is your airport ready for an onslaught of telephone calls seeking permission to fly around your field?

Last week, the FAA officially launched its “B4UFLY” App for smartphones that the FAA says is an “easy-to-use smartphone app that helps unmanned aircraft operators determine whether there are any restrictions or requirements in effect at the location where they want to fly.”

It was expected that the new App would provide a superior resource to recreational users to ensure their awareness of potential hazards to air navigation, help decrease the incidents of “near misses” with manned aircraft and ultimately, help avoid mid-air collisions between manned and unmanned aircraft.

Unfortunately, it appears that the App has created more confusion and may have set in motion an unanticipated headache for airport operators.

The App identifies a 5-mile circle around every airport and heliport and notes that the drone operator must “notify the airport operator and the Air Traffic Control Tower (if one is present).”

Interestingly, the App includes every heliport in the vicinity and draws the same 5-mile circle around heliports just as it does for airports.

In a large number of metropolitan areas, these interlocking circles make ALL flights within cities subject to the notification requirement. Further, there are multiple notification requirements because many heliports and airports have overlapping notification areas when they are located within 5 miles of each other.

Notwithstanding the FAA's statement that federal law requires notification of the airport and tower, the FAA has previously described this as a non-binding guideline, so there is some question as to what the consequences may be for operators who do not comply.

Further, nothing published by the FAA to date provides airport operators with guidance for when to authorize and when to prohibit operations when contacted about a proposed recreational UAS flight around their airport.

Lastly, perhaps of most immediate concern to airports, is how to handle the numerous telephone calls that may result from recreational users being told they must notify the airport of their intended flights.

Does your airport...

  • have a plan to take these calls?
  • have a system to log these calls?
  • have a protocol for determining whether to say “yes” or “no” to a proposed operation?
  • have an analysis of the potential liability that is related to being notified of UAS flights?
  • have a plan for consideration of locally-based regulation of recreational UAS flights?
  • have an assessment of the local political implications of telling children that they can’t use their new Christmas presents in their own backyards?

These are but a few illustrations of the unintended consequences of instructing recreational users to contact the airport for permission to use their drones.  Airports are urged to consult with their counsel to ensure that procedures are in place to provide consistent and thoughtful responses to community inquiries.  For further information, please contact Eric Smith or Allison Fultz.

 

A screen shot of the App in action in Denver.

So many interlocking circles are present that the entire
metropolitan area is totally covered and users are directed
to contact multiple airport/helipad operators.