Class B airspace is the airspace closest to major airports such as New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Atlanta.
Since it includes such excessive manned aircraft traffic levels, there is no doubt that recreational drones are strictly prohibited from flying in class B airspace. Commercial drone operators may apply for airspace authorization in Class B airspace under special circumstances using an FAA Part 107 Waiver.
Understanding Class B Airspace
Understanding how airspace works can be complicated, but there are ways to grasp the concepts by breaking them down into separate classes.
Class B is important because it is the only airspace that is strictly prohibited for recreational pilots. This airspace is the strictest because of the proximity of so many planes. Every aircraft entering Class B airspace must receive permission and clearance from air traffic control (ATC).
It spans from the ground surface to 10,000 feet MSL surrounding large airports in the country. The airspace is designed into 3 cylinders stacked on top of each other. It is tailored to each individual airport and looks like an upside-down cake in some cases.
Class B airspace is the closest to major airports, which means not every airport has Class B airspace. There are 37 airports in the United States that have qualifications to include them in this airspace due to their size.
Airports with this level of airspace must have at least 300,000 operating aircraft and at least 5,000,000 passengers annually. The FAA constantly evaluates airports to know which ones qualify and which don’t; their criteria can be found on their website (link).
Why are drones prohibited in certain airspaces?
The FAA took over the regulation of drones in June 2016. When enforcement began, it catered to commercial pilots who used Unmanned operating systems for their daily work.
Shortly after the Part 107 license was implemented by the FAA, manufacturers began releasing drones for the general public. Prices fell, and within a year, the number of drones in the air increased drastically in the United States.
Although commercial pilots were regulated that year, it didn’t stop over 23,000 pilots from getting certified and purchasing drones between August and December. Since then, the numbers have only grown.
According to the FAA, the current number of certified pilots is approximately 540,000, and the number of registered drones is about 800,000 across the country. With so many drones possibly being in the air, there is no wonder the airspace classes have been applied to UAS flight.
More than half of the pilots and the drones I referred to above are recreational. Pilots with a TRUST certification are not as well trained as commercial pilots and therefore need these regulations.
And beyond that, it is best to keep drones away from passenger aircraft as much as possible for obvious safety reasons.
How do I know where Class B Airspace is?
The easiest way to know where class B airspace is, is to look for big airports. With the traffic required for Class B airspace, the airports become hard to miss. However, there are times when it may be on the line between different airspace classifications, and there is no easy way to tell by just looking at the map.
DJI drones are all equipped with sensors that restrict flight in no-fly zones, which makes knowing the airspace much easier. They will not only show you where and what these zones are, but the drone will be unable to enter them due to an installed geofence.
However, most other models have no such feature, and it is up to the pilot to know where no-fly zones are. There are a few methods pilots can employ to find restricted zones and unrestricted zones.
One of the easiest ways is through an app specifically designed to map restricted, warning, and no-fly zones and let you know if a drone can be flown and if there are restrictions associated.
Some of these apps include B4UFly, UAV forecast, Aloft, etc., and will list the areas that drones are able to fly in and those where they are unable to. Some of them will also give lists of weather conditions and satellite coverage to better ensure flights are possible in certain areas.
If you are flying for fun without a commercial purpose, the FAA has stated you cannot fly in Class B airspace.
If you have a job and/or valid reason that would have your drone enter Class B airspace, there is a way to notify the FAA and ask for permission to fly.
You may be asking, if I am a commercial pilot, how do I get permission to fly in Class B airspace?
First of all, it should be on very rare occasions that any pilot needs to fly in such close proximity to a large airport, and it should be avoided at all costs. Obviously, the reason it is restricted at all is because of safety reasons. Nobody wants a drone crashing into an airplane with hundreds of passengers aboard.
But if you do need permission, there is a way to go about it.
There are multiple ways to apply for a waiver/authorization to fly in controlled airspace, but they all must go through the FAA in one way or another. We will explain the most common and best way to apply for waivers to make sure you are not receiving unnecessary fees or getting approval from the wrong people.
First, log into FAA Drone Zone (link) and select the tab that says, “Create Part 107 Waiver/Authorization”. A pop-up will open, at which point you should select Airspace Authorization, and you will be taken to the application.
The application is straightforward, but there are a few things that are important to remember.
- Be very specific as to what you are planning on doing and how high you will be flying.
- The responsible party should be filling the waiver out (not necessarily the pilot).
- The application must be within 90 days of the flight.
- The application can include multiple flights.
These parameters are explained in the application, but it is good to know them beforehand to avoid confusion.
The application can take weeks to complete, so be sure to complete it in plenty of time before the scheduled flight to avoid scheduling conflicts.
Class B airspace is a unique type of airspace that is more restrictive than any others. This is due to safety and traffic issues because manned aircraft take priority. When necessary, there are ways to request permission and fly in this airspace for a limited time and at certain altitudes.
Overall, it is best to avoid space near large airports when possible, but sometimes it cannot be avoided. Always be sure to notify the proper authorities and follow the laws associated with flight in this one-of-a-kind airspace.