FAA Bans Drone Flights Over Seven Energy Department Sites

The Federal Aviation Administration on Monday announced that it is prohibiting flights of unmanned aerial vehicles over seven Department of Energy sites around the country.

Drone flights will be banned from the surface to 400 feet above ground level at the Hanford Site in Washington state, the Pantex Plant in Texas, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho, the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, and the Y-12 National Security Site and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

Federal Aviation Administration National Capital Region No Drone Zone signage. Graphic: Federal Aviation Administration.

Federal Aviation Administration National Capital Region No Drone Zone signage. Graphic: Federal Aviation Administration.

The restrictions will be formally enacted on Dec. 29, the FAA said. Select exceptions will be allowed, including drone flights supporting national defense, homeland security, law enforcement, firefighting, search and rescue, or disaster response operations. But any exceptions must be coordinated with the FAA and/or the DoE facility.

The seven facilities were selected by the Energy Department.

The FAA said it was instituting the rule based on its authority under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations, specifically on “Special Security Instructions.” While corresponding restrictions are in place for military installations and 10 Interior Department locations, including the Statue of Liberty and several dams, they have not previously been used for DoE facilities.

In June and July 2016, there were more than 10 drone sightings above the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The pilot has to date has not been identified. Officials have said the flights raise security and safety concerns given the sensitive operations at Savannah River, including processing of nuclear materials, storage of low-level radioactive and transuranic waste, and construction of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility.

Breaching the new airspace restrictions could result in potential fines and criminal charges for violation of national defense airspace, the FAA said.

Separate requests from other federal security organizations for restrictions on drone flights are being reviewed, the FAA said.

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