As Part 107 comes into effect, a key question Penn Staters will be asking is, can I fly on campus? A key part of the answer lies in whether the airspace above the campus is controlled or not. What follows is a quick primer in airspace in the US.
Manned aircraft flying operations can be broken into those conducted under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and those under Visual Flight Rules (VFR). The FAA conducts all IFR operations in controlled airspace. This is airspace that they can ensure separation between aircraft, and falls into classes, labeled Class A, B, C, D and E.
Uncontrolled airspace is Class G airspace. It overlays most of the USA, from surface up to 1,200 ft above the surface. This is the airspace that the FAA does not route IFR traffic through.
Near some airports, however, the top of the uncontrolled airspace drops down a little in order to account for aircraft departing and arriving. In these locations, the top of the uncontrolled airspace (and therefore the bottom of the controlled airspace) drops down to 700 ft above the surface.
For some airports, such as those that support precision instrument approaches and/or have control towers, the controlled airspace drops all the way to the ground. At those sites it is controlled airspace from the surface upwards. Under Part 101 hobby flying rules (flying for “fun”) and Part 107, UAS flying in controlled airspace is…controlled, but controlled differently for the two cases (Part 101 and Part 107).
A survey of campus sites shows the following lie within controlled airspace, along with the facility that the airspace is associated with. They are
- Abingdon – Northeast Philadelphia Airport
- Behrend – Erie International Airport
- Berks – Reading Regional
- Harrisburg – Harrisburg International
- University Park – University Park Airport
- Worthington Scranton – Wilkes Barre/Scranton International
These campuses do not have controlled airspace at ground level:
- Great Valley
- Fayette (although located very close to Joseph A Hardy Connellsville Airport…recommend establishing an informal agreement)
- Greater Allegheny
- Hazelton (although close to approach end of Hazelton Airport)
- Lehigh Valley
- Mont Alto
- New Kensington
- Wilkes Barre
If the airspace is controlled, then the next question is, am I flying as a hobbyist (which means I am flying under Part 101), or am I flying under Part 107 rules (flying for hire). I address how to determine which bin you fall in into a separate post. But if you are flying under Part 101, before you fly you must:
- Call the controlling authority for that airspace and tell them of your intentions to fly (who, what, when, and where)
- The controlling authority can disapprove of your flying if they feel it will create an unsafe situation.
- If they don’t disapprove it, they will just acknowledge it. As flight traffic occurs at their site, they will then inform the other flight activities of your drone flying so they can be aware.
The FAA also states that if flying as a hobbyist, that you must “Provide prior notification to the airport and air traffic control tower, if one is present, when flying within 5 miles of an airport” so even though you may not be flying in controlled airspace, if you are in the vicinity of an airport, you still need to notify them of your activity.
If you will be flying under Part 107 (Penn State employee flying for Penn State, to include student interns and graduate students) then there will be a more involved process to request to fly in the airspace, and this process will not come into effect until early October, under current FAA plans. So, for the time being, no flying on these campuses under Part 107 rules. More to follow as the rules are updated.