Interesting sentence in this GigaOm article: "While the FAA suggested in 1981 that model aircraft operators fly below 400 feet, the document was just an advisory, and two aviation lawyers contacted by Gigaom said the agency has no authority below 700 feet — for now."


Airspace is sliced up into different regulatory layers from the ground unto outer space. The Federal Aviation Administration pays a lot attention to Class A — all U.S. airspace from 18,000 to 60,000 feet — where commercial planes fly. Then are the airspaces around airports, called Class B (big airports), C and D (smaller cities), that look like inverted wedding cakes and stretch up from the ground.

Drone fans, pay attention to Class G: an unregulated space from the ground to 700 or 1,200 feet, where the drones can fly below the airport tiers. Here’s an FAA image(I’ve added the arrows):

FAA Airspace

The 700 to 1,200 feet rule is distance from the ground, not sea level — so if you’re in Denver or another high altitude city, you can fly higher. Here’s a partial view of how aPopular Mechanics explainer chose to show the airspace:

FAA airspace by Popular Mechanics

While the FAA suggested in 1981 that model aircraft operators fly below 400 feet, the document was just an advisory, and two aviation lawyers contacted by Gigaom said the agency has no authority below 700 feet — for now.

“The FAA is already looking at it .. but it’s not going to happen for two years,” saidJohn Todd of Todd & Levi in New York, who noted that the number of amateur drones in the sky is growing quickly.

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Comment by Joshua Johnson on December 8, 2013 at 2:10pm

Interesting article!  The sentence that says they have no authority under 700 feet is extremely interesting to me.  If this is the case then why can't we start self regulating rules right now and begin small business use of drones?

Comment by Gary McCray on December 8, 2013 at 5:22pm

If it is true that the FAA has no authority below 700 feet (except as shown in the immediate vicinity of airports), how is it that they are currently legally prosecuting Trappy or threatening other drone operators with lawsuits for any use including hobby or commercial use.

This article states that Class G airspace is currently "unregulated" and that the FAA currently has no authority in this space.

They certainly don't seem to act as if that is the case.

Comment by Gerard Toonstra on December 8, 2013 at 5:48pm

Some more history behind this 'guideline'. :

It seems to me that the 400ft rule is more inspired by Minimum Safe Altitude rather than airspace separation. As the AMA states, it's not always a practical limit and it's often violated.

Contrary to what the article loosely implies, class G is not empty. You'll find manned sport aircraft flying at usually > 500ft AGL and in sparser areas these could well be lower. Something to keep in mind when planning and executing flights.

Comment by Paul Jenness on December 8, 2013 at 6:06pm

One thing I have wondered. Is there some sort of official information or radio frequency or something for helicopter pilots etc that advise them if another helicopter is in their area?

Im in New Zealand so its probably different ..but maybe similar to USA?

Im gussing a low flying helicopter (for whatever reason, forestry/agriculture/tourism) would have to be aware what else is potentially in its airspace? (ie another helicopter)

Is there radar or tools that they generally use. Or an affordable solution for private UAV operators?

My biggest fear would be launching a drone plane, say up a river bed to take photos and a suddenly a faster moving air vehicle had the same idea. If I new ahead of time if there were heavy air vehicles nearby it would be super useful.



Comment by Harry on December 8, 2013 at 6:13pm

Rule 1 for VFR is see and avoid.  A radio/unicom frequencies at uncontrolled fields is for announcing to other pilots your intentions like "entering the pattern", "turning base", "final".

Comment by Gary Mortimer on December 8, 2013 at 10:37pm

Unicom frequencies are only available to licenced pilots (and quite rightly so speaking with my licenced pilot hat on)

ADSB is the way to see other aircraft, although the manned community is pushing back against this. I feed ADSB data into the Flightradar 24 site using a $20 USB dongle and a bent bit of wire. If lots of us did this world wide we would have much better low level coverage and a useable avoid system. Manned aviation will have to come to the party its best UA drive it. 

For now in America seeing if you can pass a class 2 medical would be a good idea as that is going to be the first requirement. The next one is making sure you have no issues with DHS.

Trappy is being charged for reckless endangerment not altitude issues. In particular flying in and around people without their permission.

Comment by Acorn on December 9, 2013 at 4:37am

I recently contacted my local airport (Manchester, NH) concerning the possiblity of flying a "Moored Balloon" commercially for doing aerial photograpy. They said as long as I stay below a 25:1 (1' elevation for every 25' from the airport) and followed all other rules that pertain to such activities (FAA Part 101), I'm good. They also told me that common sense goes a long way and don't let anybody (PILOTS) complain.


Comment by Patrick Egan on December 9, 2013 at 8:15am

Good graphic. The FAA does have authority over class G. All navigable airspace is another story TBD. 

Comment by Gary Hunkin on December 9, 2013 at 10:51am

The community could lead with training programs and certification for pilots and engineers. Engineer is the correct term for anyone assembling or maintaining UAV or aircraft. Maintenance schedules, checklists for UAVs should be adopted to prevent failures. There recently was a pro filming company we forgot to check the antena was connected before it crashed into a cloud. Transponders of some sort with GPS position will also be an eventuality.

Comment by Benjamin Pelletier on December 9, 2013 at 1:57pm

GigaOm misunderstands the definition of "controlled" in the context of "Class G airspace is completely uncontrolled".  It's true that pilots don't have to talk to or receive permission from air traffic controllers to fly in class G airspace.  But that doesn't mean they don't have to follow the rules.  The statement that the FAA "has no authority below 700 feet" is totally false and it's clear that it's false by simply simply looking at the visibility requirement regulations (true regulations; not guidelines) for pilots in class G airspace [14 CFR Section 91.155].  If the FAA had no authority, how could there be regulations for operation in that airspace?

Regulations for aircraft operation includes minimum safe altitudes [14 CFR Section 91.119].  IANAL, but it seems like the advisory is more permissive (creates an exception) than 91.119 because, without the advisory, flying [model] aircraft within 500 ft of any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure would not be ok.


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