Drone flying is an enjoyable activity, but you must follow FAA guidelines in order to do it safely and legally. Knowing the different classifications of airspace and airspace restrictions for drone pilots can help keep you flying safely.
In the United States, there are six main airspace classifications: A, B, C, D, E, and G. Drones primarily operate in part G airspace, as it is the least restrictive and is considered “uncontrolled”. It is important to keep in mind, however, that all FAA rules and regulations still apply, and the airspace is not unregulated. This airspace extends from the surface to 700′ or 1,200′ AGL (above ground level) depending on the bottom floor of the next airspace in the area. Unless an area is otherwise specified as a different type of airspace, it is class G up to the designated altitude. Consult area charts for information on the upper limit of class G airspace near you.
Class E Airspace
Class E is the next least restrictive airspace. This exists anywhere that is above Class G but is not otherwise designated. This is considered controlled airspace, as it is where most general aviation activity takes place, and therefore drone pilots must be in communication with area traffic.
Class D Airspace
Class D airspace surrounds small airports and extends from the surface to 2,500′ AGL in a 4 nautical mile radius. Drone traffic is not permitted in this type of airspace without direct clearance from the controlling tower.
Class C Airspace
Class C airspace surrounds slightly larger airports and extends from the surface to 4,000′ AGL in a 5 nautical mile radius. Again, clearance must be provided by ATC for any drone activity here. The airspace may increase in diameter as you gain altitude, having the appearance of an upside-down wedding cake.
Class B Airspace
Class B airspace surrounds major airports and requires a clearance from ATC to even enter. This airspace always has an upside-down wedding cake appearance and gets lower as you approach the airport. It extends from the surface to 10,000′ AGL, and drone operations within this area are usually strictly regulated or prohibited. Breaching this airspace can lead to serious legal action from the FAA as it poses a direct threat to airliners.
Class A Airspace
Finally, class A airspace is not something drones will ever enter. It reaches from 18,000′ MSL (above mean sea level) to 60,000′ MSL, and can only be entered with a clearance and IFR rating.
Special Use Airspace
Other types of airspace you may encounter are considered “Special Use Airspace” and are designated either on charts or in TFRs. These include but are not limited to military operating areas, restricted and prohibited areas, special use areas (such as areas used for skydiving or flight training), and TFRs (temporary flight restrictions).
Some of these areas are permanent, while others are temporary. It is the drone pilot’s responsibility to check all charts, TFRs, and available data (which is not defined by the FAA) before flying to ensure you are within compliance and not flying in a restricted or unsafe way.
Local ground schools are a great resource for learning about FAA rules and regulations and studying a copy of the most recent FAR (Federal Aviation Regulations) can go a long way to ensuring a safe and enjoyable drone experience. Remember, drones are difficult for even general aviation pilots to see and can cause significant damage or even death if proper safety precautions are not followed.