The FAA Shut Down Every Drone Club Within 30-Mile Radius of Washington, D.C.

Anyone living in the Washington, D.C., area who got a drone for Christmas can no longer fly it. In fact, every drone club within a 30-mile radius has been banned, according to a new Federal Aviation Administration rule.

To date, the FAA has shut down at least 36 model aircraft clubs in the Washington, D.C., area, establishing a no-fly zone around the nation’s capital, Motherboard reports. The regulation, which initially was only a 15-mile radius, was doubled to 30 miles in September.

Poster for the FAA's campaign spreading awareness about drone restrictions in Washington, D.C. (Image via FAA.gov)
Poster for the FAA’s campaign spreading awareness about drone restrictions in Washington, D.C. (Image via FAA.gov)

The FAA has since launched a new campaign to educate people on the new regulation, dubbing D.C. a “No Drone Zone,” which says the nation’s capitol is a “flight restricted zone” and that includes unmanned aircraft as well as traditional aircraft.

The FAA, however, has faced pushback because the new 30-mile restriction is shutting down drone clubs that have existed without safety concern for several years. Many of the now-closed clubs operated out of huge fields in rural parts of Maryland and Virginia and 14 of the 36 clubs were even accredited by the Academy of Modern Aircraft.

In the past, AMA accreditation has ensured clubs are in compliance with baseline safety guidelines and are located a safe distance from airports, according to Motherboard. However, the FAA last week sent an email to the AMA asking the organization to shutter the clubs it has accredited within the regulated 30-mile radius.

One of the United States’ largest drone clubs, the DC Drone User Group, has been forced to shutdown and it is unclear whether or not it will be allowed to reopen. Group president Christopher Vo, who frequently hosts fly-ins and drone meet-ups in large, open fields, said the new action is a “show-stopper” for the drone hobby industry.

“In 2016, we’re going to try to do more indoor flying events to get around D.C.-area restrictions because the demand is so high to find a place to fly,” Vo told Motherboard. “Many of these fields could be down and out for many more months to come.”

Vo is not the only person unhappy with the FAA’s new restrictions. The rule, which was established in September, makes flying drones anywhere within the 30-mile radius illegal and punishable by law, but the FAA says it has heard reports of people flying drones within the restricted airspace.

“We are hearing reports that some individuals may be flying inside the [Special Flight Rules Area] even though they know it is in violation of the current airspace restrictions,” FAA special operations security group manager Brian Throop wrote in an email to several clubs and flying sites, including the AMA. “We are asking for your help in spreading the word to the National Capital Region model aircraft community that such activity is subject to enforcement action.”

The AMA passed the message along to all the organization it accredits, asking clubs to discontinue all flying operations, asking groups and individuals to “not contact the FAA on your own,” citing a belief that the new regulation may only be temporary.

“We have every reason to believe that this is a temporary situation,” the AMA wrote in an email to members. “Persons operating aircraft within the SFRA are subject to civil penalties and or criminal charges.”

Additionally, in a separate email posted to its website, the AMA tells members that they do not need to close their fields because the organization believes the FAA will lift the 30-mile restriction “as early as mid-January.” But, it is important to note, the FAA rarely walks back decisions regarding no-fly zones in the D.C. area.

Vo struck a more cynical tone toward the restriction: “AMA seems to think that this whole situation will be resolved by mid-January, but we all know how slow things roll at the Feds.”

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