As drone pilots, we may not always think of our small quadcopters as being aircraft — but the drones we fly share the airspace with all the other planes, helicopters, and drones in the sky. That means drone pilots are responsible to know and follow airspace rules, just like traditional pilots do.
That said, the rules and regulations for drones in the airspace are a little different than those for planes or helicopters. So how can licensed drone pilots know where they can fly, and how to safely access the airspace?
Background: Part 107 regulations for drone pilots
In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sets airspace rules. Commercial drone pilots are governed by the FAA’s Small UAS Rule, also known as Part 107. This sets the “rules of the road” for drone pilots to safely access the sky.
(Side note: drone pilots flying for purely recreational purposes may be able to fly under a limited exception to Part 107. This doesn’t mean that there are no restrictions for these pilots, however. Among other things, recreational drone pilots must pass The Recreational UAS Safety Test from the FAA, also known as TRUST.)
Part 107 explains what airspace commercial drone pilots are permitted to access — and where they shouldn’t fly. Part 107 also sets rules for getting certified to fly drones for business, and much more.
Essentials of drone airspace under Part 107
At its most basic, Part 107 generally prohibits drone pilots from operating:
- Higher than 400 feet above ground level (except when flying within 400 feet of a vertical structure)
- In prohibited or restricted areas
- In temporary & permanent flight restricted areas
- In controlled airspace
Some examples of restricted or prohibited airspace include:
- Stadiums and sporting events – usually one hour before the event’s scheduled time until one hour after its conclusion
- National security sensitive facilities – military bases, national landmarks, and critical infrastructure
- Temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) – hazardous areas or security-related events
- Emergency and rescue operations – for example, around wildfires or hurricanes
U.S. airspace is a complicated topic, and it can be hard to know what information will be relevant for drone operations. While it’s important for a drone pilot to understand topics such as classes of airspace, special use airspace, TFRs, and more, it can feel overwhelming.
That’s why Skyward designed an airspace map specifically for drone pilots to make it all easier to understand.
My Advice? Use a drone airspace map like Skyward
Skyward’s drone airspace map is designed to simplify complex airspace for drone operators. Take, for example, this VFR (Visual Flight Rules) sectional chart, which provides comprehensive airspace information for the Chicago area. Because it provides deep information across many types of aviation, the amount of detail can be overwhelming.
Now, compare that chart to Skyward’s airspace map in the same area. By only displaying the airspace information that’s most relevant to drone pilots at 400 feet and below, Skyward simplifies complex airspace and makes planning your flight — and understanding if you have permission to fly — much easier.
Not only that, but Skyward also displays current and upcoming TFRs, which can come up suddenly. Skyward offers essential ground intelligence and 3D views of more than a million structures. And in addition to light, dark, and satellite map layers, Skyward customers also have access to a VFR sectional chart map layer — just in case you need it for advanced mission planning.
To learn more, check out another article I wrote on five frequently asked questions about Skyward’s airspace map.
Accessing controlled airspace with LAANC
Let’s talk a little more about controlled airspace. Most major airports are surrounded by a few miles of controlled airspace, which gives planes room to take off and land safely. Most cities have at least one major airport, which means large parts of the city may be covered by controlled airspace. And since drones aren’t permitted to fly in controlled airspace, that creates a big problem for drone operations in urban areas.
Fortunately, that’s where something called LAANC comes in. LAANC stands for “Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability.” It was developed by the FAA to allow drone operators to submit automated requests for access to fly within controlled airspace, and receive a response in seconds. It’s an essential capability for any drone program.
Skyward is an FAA-approved LAANC service supplier, which means that drone operators can request airspace authorizations via LAANC in Skyward. Your authorization will be available in the Skyward platform right alongside all your other operating details.
Skyward can help you navigate Part 107
Of course, this hasn’t been a comprehensive course on accessing airspace safely under Part 107 — but hopefully it’s been a helpful starter. If you want to learn more about Part 107 and how to safely operate drones in the U.S., download our guide, Navigating Part 107.