Responding to a request to enhance unmanned aircraft flight restrictions over military bases, the FAA recently made the airspace over three new Defense Department facilities no-drone zones and extended the restricted boundary of a third.
Using existing “special security instructions” authority, the FAA has incrementally addressed the threat of “malicious drone operations” by establishing airspace over specific sites deemed critical to national security as off-limits to unmanned aerial systems.
Airspace over Naval Support Activity Monterey, Calif.; Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas and Naval Support Activity Orlando, Fla., is now off-limits to all UAS flights. The already restricted airspace over Naval Support Activity South Potomac, Md., has been extended. The changes become effective June 1, according to the FAA.
Some exceptions to the rules exist, but they have to be worked out with each individual facility and/or the FAA. Drone operators who violate the airspace restrictions are subject to civil penalties and criminal charges and the confiscation or destruction of their aircraft.
Because privately owned UAS routinely violate military airspace, the FAA has given the Defense Department limited authority to disrupt or destroy drones, including hobbyist drones and remote-controlled aircraft, that stray into or intentionally enter those restricted areas.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently told a Senate panel that the military’s authority to shoot down the offending aircraft was insufficient. Mattis wants to both expand the number of bases and facilities that are off limits to drones and enhance the military’s ability to shoot them down.
“This is becoming an increasing problem,” Mattis told the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense during May 9 testimony on the fiscal 2019 defense budget. “We now track every overflight of our bases, ships, airfields. I was surprised to see just how much of this is being dealt with. We are probably going to have to come in to the FAA and perhaps even to Congress and ask for additional authorities.”
The military can disrupt or destroy small unmanned aerial systems (UAS) over certain secure facilities with restricted airspace but has limited authority to shoot down drones over most of its facilities. The FAA limits what defenses the military can deploy against small drones because some systems pose a threat to manned commercial and civil aircraft.
The FAA is continuing to consider additional requests by federal agencies for UAS-specific airspace restrictions as they are received and will be announced as they are approved.