Drones in Airspace

Drones are becoming more and more common in the skies around us. And as there are more drones in the air, the more we see problems with drones impacting the entire Aviation Industry. This is why understanding airspace is so important. At the most basic level, airspace consists of controlled airspace and uncontrolled airspace. Controlled airspace is generally surrounding airports and at altitudes much higher than drones are legally allowed to fly.

There is so much that relates to airspace that we will not discuss, but the focus is that drone pilots must have a great deal of knowledge when it comes to airspace.

Controlled airspace is airspace that is monitored and controlled by Air Traffic Control. Uncontrolled airspace is not monitored by Air Traffic Control.

Here is a basic rundown of the various types of Airspace:
  • Class A – 18,000ft MSL (mean sea level)
  • Class B – airports with extremely high traffic
  • Class C – airports with high traffic areas
  • Class D – airports with a functioning tower
  • Class E – filler airspace
  • Class G – Uncontrolled airspace
  • Special Use – TFR’s (Temporary Flight Restrictions), restricted airspace, MOA’s (Military Operation Areas)

The ceiling for legal drone operations is 400ft AGL (Above Ground Level). This means that most of the time, drones can’t even get close to other aircraft. In Class G airspace, you are able to fly up to 400ft anywhere you want. But as you get closer to airports in controlled airspace, you are required to get a special approval. To find these restrictions, you can refer to an airport’s UAS Facility Map. On the map, there are many different quadrants around the airport that denote the allowable heights that you can get approval for. There are two different types of approvals when it comes to authorization: Immediate authorizations and Manual Authorizations

Immediate Authorizations:

Immediate authorizations can be done through an app on your phone. These apps are FAA approved LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization & Notification Capability) providers. Once a pilot inputs their credentials, and sets up the flight plan on the app, the app provides an immediate authorization for the time specified. Here is a list of some of the providers:

Here is a link to the FAA’s site with the entire list: https://www.faa.gov/uas/programs_partnerships/data_exchange/

Manual Authorizations:

Manual authorizations are done through the FAA’s Drone Zone website. https://faadronezone.faa.gov/

This process takes anywhere from 90 days to two weeks. I have gotten approval in 3 days, and I have also had to wait for approval for months. They have gotten a lot better with responsiveness in the last year, and the average is about 2 weeks from initial request to approval or denial. Keep in mind, this is only a request, and the FAA can deny this request if they feel it doesn’t meet certain safety requirements. They also may adjust your request to meet the needs of the controlling body.

What Pilots Need to Watch Out for:

Having an authorization or flying in uncontrolled airspace does not mean you are totally in the clear. You still need to watch out for low flying aircraft and Helicopters. Helicopters travel at a much lower altitude, and they can sneak up on you easily. Their low level operations are not limited to the proximity to the airports. Be on the lookout when you are around hospitals and urban areas. And in rural areas, you need to watch out for crop dusters that fly extremely low.

How it relates to the Client

Companies and businesses hiring drone pilots need to make sure their selected pilot knows the airspace for every job they conduct. Always ask them about the airspace surrounding the prospective flight location, and if they need any specific authorizations for the flight. If it’s close to an airport, the pilot will be required to get a special authorization. If this is not attained, the pilot may be breaking regulations, and the drone may not even allow the pilot to take off.


Airspace is important, and should be the first thing any drone pilot looks at when preparing for a flight. You may not be an expert, and you don’t have to be. You just have to hire an expert. Check out what our clients are saying about us: