Drone use in Washington DC has been the subject of debate and frustration. Keeping drones grounded is seen as a security measure to protect national interests, and just like everywhere else, there are people who believe they violate privacy.
Can you fly a drone in Washington DC?
As it currently stands, you can’t legally fly a drone in Washington DC. In fact, if your drone has geofencing, you won’t even be able to take off.
In this article, we’ll discuss drone laws in DC and offer tips for complying with them. Make sure you keep reading!
Is flying drones legal in Washington DC?
UAVs are illegal in Washington DC, with the capital deemed a no-drone zone.
Drones are not permitted to fly near sensitive areas or government buildings. Washington DC also has a massive no-fly zone around the White House and Pentagon.
Many federal and government buildings can be found in the city, and some of these agencies are concerned about the safety of those inside them being compromised by drones.
DC is also the capital of the United States, so security concerns should be considered in regard to the President.
Why is drone flying restricted in Washington DC?
While you may be thinking, “my drone just has a camera on it? How can it harm someone?” There are ways!
Your drone’s propellers are (to some degree) weapons, so they can cause harm.
More so than that, your drone can collect information with its camera, and your drone has the capability of being modified to drop weapons from the sky.
A drone crashed into the White House in 2015. This incident created a security breach that raised concerns about future drone “attacks.”
Quadcopter types are a common model of drones and are used by both hobbyists and professionals. Quadcopters can be dangerous tools for malicious actors because they are easy to get and operate.
The US government implemented tighter drone regulations in the wake of the 2015 incident. These regulations are intended to prevent drones from being misused for criminal purposes in the future.
Unfortunately, these regulations oppress well-meaning pilots who want to have fun flying around the nation’s capital.
Washington DC has one of the most restrictive airspaces, The Washington DC NO DRONE ZONE, otherwise known as the SFRA of Washington DC.
The problem with SFRA
We have discussed why the FAA does not allow pilots to fly around the capital. However, it’s not just the capital that drones are restricted in.
Washington DC is governed within a 30-mile radius of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport by a Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) that restrains all flights within the greater DC region.
This means that even if you aren’t in Washington DC, flying your drone is still illegal.
You can be in Virginia and if you have a DJI drone, it won’t even take off. This is a huge issue because you present no threat to the capital. In fact, you can be inside your home, and if your drone is geofenced, it still won’t ever make it off the ground.
The issue here is that you are inside your home, and the airspace is yours. Sure, as soon as you step outside your home, you are in the jurisdiction of FAA airspace, but the fact that the drones are geofenced to such a high degree has made many pilots infuriated.
Essentially, you can be in a different state while still being governed by Washington’s flight restrictions. It is, in some ways, allegorical to the power that federal law has over states.
Many consider this a lack of respect for individuals’ rights, as well as an oversight by the FAA, while others seem to agree with the precautions.
Washington DC drone rules / How to fly in Washington DC
To fly a drone in Washington, DC, you must have a permit. This permit can only be obtained if there is a valid reason to fly your drone, such as for commercial purposes.
The catch is, the organization that you will need to contact to receive a permit is the Secret Service, and with all their other jobs–presidential security detail, counterfeit prevention, and more–it may be a while before they get back to you.
If you do wish to fly your drone in Washington, DC, you must be familiar with the rules.
The following are the most important:
- Obtain permission/authorization to fly in Washington DC
- You must be at least 16 years old
- Drones must be registered with the FAA
- The FAA will issue a registration number to drones
- Remote pilots must have an active FAA license
- Avoid flying your drone near Washington’s federal and government offices
- Your drone must not be flown above 400 feet
- It is forbidden to fly your drone in close proximity to any monuments or government buildings
- Your drone must be kept out of public places, such as parks and stadiums
- Proper lighting is essential for drone flying at night (and a waiver)
- Drones must not be flown while you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Avoid flying close to manned aircraft, and yield to them when possible
- Keep your drone in your line of sight
- Avoid flying your drone above any animals or people
- You must give way to manned aircraft
- Don’t interfere with law enforcement and emergency activities.
- Keep your drone within the Visual Line of Sight (VLOS)
- Don’t fly your drone in an unsafe manner or recklessly
- Be aware of no-drone zones and don’t fly in them
Washington DC penalties for drone law violation
Anyone who violates drone laws in Washington DC will be subject to several severe penalties. This should deter anyone from considering violating the law even if they are frustrated about the regulations.
Many federal and government buildings in Washington DC are frequently targeted by terrorist threats. It is therefore illegal to fly or spy on these buildings to collect information or photos.
Obviously, most pilots would never indented to harm anyone or put the nation at risk, but Washington DC lawmakers do not discriminate between good and bad intentions.
As it is a threat to national security, criminal charges can be brought against you for doing so. It is also illegal for drones to capture photos or videos of these buildings.
If you plan to visit Washington DC, please be aware of the regulations and rules in place to protect our capital.
You may lose your drone
Drones cannot fly in restricted airspace, and anyone found violating the rules could have their drone taken from them.
If your drone is found to be in violation of drone laws, authorities will seize it and you won’t be able to get it back unless you participate in a lengthy process of appeals.
Even then, you may never see your drone again.
Jailtime and fines
Washington DC is known for its stringent drone laws. You can be punished with a fine or even sent to prison for violating one of these laws.
Flying without a permit is the most common drone violation in DC.
Cancellation or suspension of your drone license
You can lose your drone license if you don’t follow the rules. If you are a professional Part 107 Pilot, this could be detrimental to your income.
Drones should not be considered toys. They can cause severe damage if they aren’t used correctly.
It is illegal to fly a drone in Washington, D.C. without a license just like it is illegal to fly a drone in an area where it is not permitted. This can cause disturbances to other people or animals and may also damage property.
The FAA will harshly discipline you if you are found to be violating the rules for flying drones anywhere, but especially in Washington DC.
You can’t fly a drone in or around Washington DC. Technically, you can if you go through a rigorous procedure and obtain a permit.
Even once you have clearance from the government to fly, you’ll still be confronted with your drone’s geofencing.
Overall, it’s a complicated situation. You’re probably better off finding a different city to fly your drone in.