Public Lab Research note

Map showing where you can and can't fly drones

by ajawitz | August 11, 2014 13:56 11 Aug 13:56 | #11032 | #11032

The following map can be found at and additional data can be added via its Github page- This has already proven useful for my own projects as I my own project area is heavily restricted. Does anybody know if the same restrictions apply to KAP or Balloon Mapping?


Interesting, I have been looking for something similar for the UK/London but to no avail.

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Here's also an infographic published by the FAA-


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I wonder about Military/defense installations without aviation facilities? For example, according to the map anyone should be able to fly over the Multi-Billion dollar Aircraft Carriers at Newport News Shipyard! Or closer to home in Maine, are there really no restrictions for flying UAVs around Bath Iron Works? Where they're supposedly building the most advanced warships in the world?

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not sure about kites. pretty sure there isn't anything written specifically about kites or balloons, but I would imagine they can find some rule to put hurt on you if cheese them off.

U.S. Homeland Security Regs (federal) say:

no taking pictures of

1) nuclear facilities, unless you have a permit (one public lab group did this) 2) military bases where the commanding officer has declared no pictures shall be taken

but that's for taking pictures. and in practice, industrial facilities have security protocols in place that label anyone taking pictures of their facilities "suspicious persons," and the sheriff is called.

So don't cheese off the sheriff! If the sheriff decides that you are a "threat to public safety" the sheriff can detain you for a certain period of time. Or, in the united states, if you are black, apparently all bets are off. RIP Michael Brown, today. I would imagine the same thing applies to the US military if you look like an arab. I mean, I'm kind of joking, but not. The facility gets to decide what they think a "suspicious person" is. So whatever that is, don't be that.

If you need to take pictures of facilities, I would at least have a lawyer and someone to bail you out, and wear little american flags on your lapel. I always carry my business card on me if suspiciousness may be laid upon me, so the sheriff knows that it's official business.

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Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting in any way that anybody fly in restricted military areas. Quite to the contrary, I think airspace restrictions around military sites would be perfectly reasonable. Rather, I'm surprised they haven't been clearer about their policy. Especially when a few careless fliers could prompt the entire National Park Service to impose a ban on all NPS lands.

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Kites and balloons are a separate category. they are banned in some sensitive wildlife areas, but are OK in national parks. This map is nice because we don't want to be flying around airports and military bases.

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Technically, small kites and balloons are completely exempt from these regulations except for the vague "don't be a hazard" provisions.

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I'm beginning to to wonder if I might've just opened up Pandora's Box when it comes to FAA regulations on "Unmanned Aerial Systems"... Even the FAA's own handout that I posted in an earlier comment, doesn't actually ban the use of "Unmanned Aerial Systems" within 5 miles of airports but rather suggests one "contact the airport or control tower when flying within 5 miles of an airport." Nor is it exactly easy to find any official policies online since as of the time of writing the relevant web page on is empty- I was able to dig out a cached copy of a PDF which can be found here if anyones interested...

The terminology for "Unmanned Aerial Systems" instead of "Vehicles" could be highly relevant to our work BTW... According to this article entitled Drone report: Electronic news gathering, law and litigation

The FAA classifies “unmanned aerial systems (UAS)” as the unmanned aircraft (UA) and all of its associated support equipment, including control station, data >links, telemetry, communications and navigation equipment, etc., necessary to operate the aircraft. (Emphasis Added)*

Of course, vaguely worded definitions are part of bureaucratic syntax and hardly signals anything that might be of concern for grassroots mappers.

But I have to admit, whereas only yesterday I found myself defending government restrictions on safety and even security grounds, my concern has been growing about the true "spirit" of the law governing "UAS".

For example, the *Southeast Farm Press" published an article only yesterday with a headline reading- FAA DRONE RULING SAID TO BE SETBACK FOR FARMERS, RESEARCH.

The article included an overview of how UAS technology can help farmers that should sound familiar to PLOTS contribitors-

One of the primary uses will be for aerial photography. What a farmer can do is place an infrared camera on an unmanned aircraft system. The infrared technology >will be able to check the crops for diseases that the farmer then can go and tackle at a quicker pace than having to walk the field,”

The article then goes on to outline how such deployments may be complicated by the recent FAA ruling that "clarifies the difference between a hobby use and non-hobby use of unmanned aircraft systems".

The new ruling was explained by a rural development specialist at the American Farm Bureau-

“If a farmer just wants to use an unmanned aircraft system to view crops or a field that their family is going to consume, they can utilize that technology. But if it is >for a commercial farming operation – the farmer’s going to take that product and sell it to a consumer – then they can no longer utilize that technology according to >the FAA.

Whenever there's a legal grey area such the confusion surrounding UAS, one is often compelled to interpret the "spirit of the law". My concerns are that the "spirit" of this law seems to be more about protecting vested commercial interests then it is about establishing safety procedures. If this is indeed the case then its no wonder the regulations concerning airports and military zones are so vague!

I've done enough work in procurement reform and Open Data advocacy to recognize certain red flags amidst the usual bureaucratic minutae and the FAA is setting off its own share of them... So if my concerns are warranted, then I'd say grassroots mappers should be extra vigilant as the FAA decides what constitutes a "hobby" and what requires a "commercial" (i.e Corporate) permit. Such rules could very well rope in kites and weather balloons in their definition of "UAS"...

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Kites and balloons are prior to and different from UAS. they are not classified as "aircraft" becuase they are not dirigible (powered or steerable). They have their own regulations in FAR 101. It is almost never the case that two sets of regulations encompass one type of object. I haven't heard a peep about re-writing FAR 101-- those regs have been largely unchanged since the 1960's. Some time in the late '90's early '00's the dropping of gliders from balloons and kites was banned, but that's the only change I know of in 50 years.

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Thats good to know, and definitely something to keep an eye on. Still, my concern is not that the FAA will suddenly start requiring kite licenses (although that would make for great late night comedy material), but rather that certain interests will take advantage of the rulemaking process to regulate aerial photography in any form regardless of the vehicle. They would do this by narrowing the definition of "hobby" photography to a case by case basis, (only of your personal property, with signed release etc...) while everything else would be assumed to be commercial, requiring an expensive permitting process. The result would be all but a few "professional" contractors could afford the legal fees, would be left out of the process. Before I come off as sounding overly conspiratorial, I should add that I don't think there's necessarily an evil villain somewhere rubbing his palms in anticipation of the day he finally controls the lucrative aerial photography industry. Rather it could be the result of various competing interests aliging in a way that leaves nobody satisfied. Copyright law is a good example of such a scenario...

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we can only hope it doesn't happen... I don't even know how we'd watch for that. KAP isn't a big enough world to lobby for much.

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This is the map reference given to me after spending a considerable amount of time finding about about kite flying rules on the phone with the FAA. In New Orleans, you will go through the Houston office, which will send you over to baton Rouge, who is the regional controller. The purple circle outlines are the 5 mile radius that is shown around each airport that has a tower, and is in control over that airspace. Outside the purple boundaries (airport tower control), airplanes fly according to visual rules, and the airspace starts at 1200'. Within the 5 mile radius, a tethered kite is limited to 150', so by trig, you could have maybe 250' of line out. Outside the 5 mile limit, you are bound by a 500' ceiling, so maybe 750-800' of line. Despite these rules, in certain areas, such as the gulf here in Louisiana, although helicopter pilots are flying by line of sight, if you had a kite/ quadcopter interfering with their operations, I'm sure they would report you as a hazard to airmen. To avoid this, or if you plan on flying above, you must request an exemption in writing to the regional controller who publishes the notice to airmen in your area.

Can kites be flown near the airport ? FAA Response:14 CFR Part 101 states that...within 5 miles of the boundary of any airport "...No person may operate an unshielded moored balloon or kite more than 150 feet above the surface of the earth unless, at least 24 hours before beginning the operation, he gives the following information to the FAA ATC facility that is nearest to the place of intended operation: (a) the names and addresses of the owners and operators, (b) the size of the balloon or the size and weight of the kite, (c) the location of the operation, (d) the height above the surface of the earth at which the balloon or kite is to be operated, and (e) the date, time and duration of the operation." There are also additional lighting and marking requirements, if the balloon or kite would be operated above 150 feet above the surface of the earth. Part 101 also states "(a) no person may operate any moored balloon, kite, unmanned rocket, or unmanned free balloon in a manner that creates a hazard to other persons or their property, and (b) no person operating any moored balloon, kite, unmanned rocket, or unmanned free balloon may allow an object to be dropped there from, if such action creates a hazard to other persons or their property."

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