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Know the no-drone zones

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- What comes in a variety shapes and sizes, serves diverse purposes and could have a wingspan as large as a jet airliner or smaller than a model airplane, possibly controlled by a radio?

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, Unmanned Aircraft Systems, commonly known as drones, are defined as an aircraft or device invented, used or designed to navigate or fly in the air.

Because a UAS is different than a manned aircraft, sharing and introducing them into the airspace presents challenges for both the aviation communities and the FAA.

"The biggest concern we have, on the force protection side, is having a UAS in the air which could hamper aerial operations, which could prevent aircraft from taking off, landing or potentially divert one to another location," said Paul Christinson, 460th Security Forces Squadron force protection intelligence.

Personnel, aircraft and infrastructure safety are high priorities for the Air Force, which includes prevention of possible hazards or situations.  

"A threat of a UAS is to our flying operations and to the sensitive infrastructure we have on base," said Lt. Col. Christopher Southard, 140th Wing Colorado Air National Guard chief of safety. "They can be a direct threat to our aircraft, F-16 Fighting Falcons and helicopters, and cause catastrophic damage if one were to fly into a flight pattern."

Southard and Christinson expressed that, in recent years, the aerial systems have been popular toys as gifts, but advises operators to educate themselves and understand the safety rules prior to flying them. 

Buckley Air Force Base follows the rules and regulations provided by the FAA. One of the regulations restricts flying a UAS within 5 miles of an airfield. According to Christinson, if an operator wishes to fly an UAS within the 5-mile limit of Buckley's airfield, permission must be coordinated through the control tower. 

Below is a list from the FAA on safe UAS operations:

Safety First

Flying a UAS as a hobby or for recreational purposes does not require FAA approval, operators must operate safely and in accordance with the current regulations and laws.

- Fly within visual line of sight and use an observer to assist if needed
- Avoid flying near other aircraft, especially low-flying aircraft and helicopters
- Fly below 400 feet and remain below any surrounding obstacles when possible
- Do not interfere with manned aircraft operations
- Never fly within 5 miles of an airport without prior authorization by contacting airport authorities and the airport's traffic control facility
- Do not intentionally fly over unprotected persons or moving vehicles
- Do not fly near or over sensitive infrastructures or property, to include power stations, water treatment facilities, correctional facilities, heavily traveled roadways, government facilities, etc.
- Keep well away from emergency response efforts such as fires
- Do no fly during adverse weather conditions
- Know your preflight checklist

Prior to flying, the FAA requires certain systems to be registered.

Registration

Owners must register their UAS if the following guidelines are met:
- Aircraft weighs more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) and less than 55 pounds (25 kilograms)
- Aircraft is used for purposes other than hobby and recreation
- Intended to operate the aircraft outside the United States
- Aircraft purchased on or after Dec. 21, 2015, and used exclusively as model aircraft must be registered prior to operating in the National Air Space. UAS that have been operated in the NAS by the current owner, and used exclusively as model aircraft prior to Dec. 21, 2015, must be registered by Feb. 19, 2015.

To register your UAS, click here. 

"The FAA will issue a unique registration number that must be placed on the UAS so that it is readily visible," explained Christinson. "This number will be unique to the operator if operating strictly for hobby purposes and unique to the aircraft if operating for purposes other than hobby. The operator of the UAS must carry a Certificate of Aircraft Registration and make it available to law enforcement upon request."

According to an FAA press release, the deadline to register is Feb. 19. Failure to register a UAS with the FAA could result in one or a combination the following: a civil penalty up to $27,500; a criminal fine up to $250,000; imprisonment for up to three years.

For additional information, visit the FAA website.
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