4.4. Flying locations and airspace classification

It is absolutely necessary for pilots in command to understand how airspace at flying locations is classified.

If civil aviation authorities or private vendors offer applications with real-time information about airspace restrictions based on the users GPS location (e.g. B4UFLY is an app provided by the FAA), such applications should be used.

Temporary flight restrictions (TFR) are sometimes put in place by authorities. Such restrictions are communicated via notices to airmen (NOTAM). Deliberately ignoring them can bring criminal charges. Unknowingly violating temporary flight restrictions can also bring serious charges, because it indicates that the pilot has not performed his flight preparation as is his duty.

Owning land does not give a company the right to fly a drone over that land – all airspace is regulated by the civil aviation authority of the country and subject to its airspace classification.

Civil aviation authorities are responsible to regulate all airspace down to the surface of the land. Like manned airplanes do not require permission of the land owners of all the land they fly over, technically in most countries drones do not require such permissions either. This is in conflict with what many land owners perceive as their rights (e.g. right of privacy) and they are often supported by politicians and law enforcement agencies.

Some local legislative bodies might have put laws in place which are in apparent conflict with the above and further restrict airspace usage. This is due to the newness of the topic and the legal situation not yet being clear and free of contradictions.

It is important to avoid conflicts through careful stakeholder management wherever possible to avoid antagonizing members of the community.

Takeoff and landing locations greatly influence the risk associated with flying.

Test and training flights require more ‘room for error’ and need to be selected with extra care.

Risks

  1. Airspace violations can cause accidents.
  2. Airspace violations near airports can lead to air traffic interruptions triggered by security alerts.
  3. Temporary flight restrictions are unknowingly violated.
  4. Flying over people’s property can create avoidable conflict with the local community.

Audit Steps

  1. Interview pilots on airspace restrictions they face and how they deal with them. It is unacceptable for pilots not to be aware of how the airspace they fly in is classified.
  2. Assess the distance to the closest airports and ensure minimum distances are kept as per local law.
  3. Validate that the pilots and the flightcrew have access to information about prohibited or restricted airspace and warning areas via charts and notices to airmen (NOTAM).
  4. Interview pilots on their communications with air traffic control if any and how those communications are handled.
  5. Understand the need to fly over land not owned by the company and the permissions required for that – legally and as per internal regulations.
  6. Review all complaints from authorities, neighbours or other parties regarding flight operations.
  7. Review typical fly-over situations and evaluate the potential impact of drone noise and the countermeasures in place.
  8. Review typical fly-over situations and evaluate the potential for privacy violations and the countermeasures in place.
  9. If fly-over permits are required by law, review the system to ensure that they are obtained in time.
  10. Review how stakeholder relationships (e.g. airfield neighbours) are managed to prevent community backlash.
  11. Review risk mitigation efforts related to flying locations and the possibility of safer alternative locations.
  12. Validate that test and training flights are conducted at locations which provide sufficient space for pilot errors or system malfunctions.

 

drone audit program index