Flying UAS Near Airports – How FAA Changed the Rules For One Operator

LaGuardia International Airportold

One of the issues a number of our commercial UAS clients have is flying within 5 nautical miles of an airport. The blanket Certificate of Authorization (COA) issued with each Section 333 grant of exemption prohibits flights in this airspace without new, special permission being obtained.

We recently found a change in the FAA mandated procedure for requesting permission to fly within 5 miles of an airport. We will need to see if this change occurs in other Section 333 grants of exemption, since this approach may only be for the unique operations of the operator, a public university flight school, Kansas State University.

For much of Section 333’s history, the procedure for requesting permission to fly within 5 miles of an airport was to get a Letter of Agreement (LOA) with the airport’s management. For example the following has been a typical Section 333 exemption condition: 

“The UA may not operate within 5 nautical miles of an airport reference point (ARP) as denoted in the current FAA Airport/Facility Directory (AFD) or for airports not denoted with an ARP, the center of the airport symbol as denoted on the current FAA-published aeronautical chart, unless a letter of agreement with that airport’s management is obtained or otherwise permitted by a COA issued to the exemption holder. The letter of agreement with the airport management must be made available to the Administrator or any law enforcement official upon request.”

A recent Section 333 grant of exemption however changed this procedure. At least for this Section 333 recipient, a new COA must be requested for flights within 5 miles of an airport, and the ATO – not the operator – will procure the Letter of Agreement (LOA):

“In order to maintain operational safety in the vicinity of airports, particularly as it affects Class B, C, or D airspace, instead of contacting the airport management, the petitioner must apply to the ATO for a new or amended COA. The ATO will coordinate an LOA with local air traffic management via the COA process. The FAA finds that this approach facilitates consistency between the exemption and the COA.Kansas-State-University-13465A (Bold added.)

With every FAA release of Section 333 grant of exemptions, Antonelli Law reviews them for important changes as well as incremental developments to better advise our clients. Remember when the prohibition over flying in yellow areas of the sectional charts went away? We discovered that disappearance even though the FAA had no press release or website update on the change. We hope our discovery of this change for permission for flights within 5 miles of an airport for this operator has helped you be aware it may change for all.

If you would like to speak with our UAS attorneys on the cutting edge about your unique airspace requirements, or any other UAS related matter including filing a Section 333 petition, call Antonelli Law at 312-201-8310.


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