No Fly-Zone Over the Lehigh Valley Grounds Drones

By: John Fries
Co-Founder, Lehigh Valley Drone

Flying your drone between Aug 4th, through Aug 20th, 2017 could land you heavy fines.  The Federal Aviation Administration has issued a temporary flight restriction (TFR) that spans 30 miles from Bedminster, NJ to limit air traffic for a visit to the area by President Trump.  

Presidential TFRs are common for when the POTUS leaves the White House.  Since President Trump lives in New York and owns the Trump National Golf Course in Bedminster, New Jersey, residents in the eastern part of Northampton County are affected by this closure of airspace.  

The 30 mile “ring” that surrounds Bedminster, NJ reaches as far as Nazareth, parts of Bethlehem City and even East Stroudsburg.  

Any person who flies a drone, or as the FAA calls them, unmanned aerial systems (UAS), puts themselves at risk of fines.  While an FAA spokesperson said, “we don’t speculate on potential penalties.”  Records show that most fines begin around $1,000 per violation and go higher.  Also, if you are a commercial remote pilot, they could suspend your remote pilot license.

The FAA does not make distinction of type of operation, recreational or commercial, so that small Christmas present you are flying in your back yard could potentially end you up in hot water with the Feds.

While the chances of being caught by the FAA flying your drone in your back yard that may be covered by the TRF are very slim, it’s still technically in violation of the airspace restriction and the same FAA spokesperson said that, “The FAA would investigate any reports of TFR violations.”

The FAA has many ways of getting updated information about upcoming and active flight restrictions.  The FAA website lists the TFRs and your can search by state – note that the upcoming TFR is issued to NJ.  There is also a smartphone app called “B4UFly” that the FAA created just for remote pilots to check to see if there are any safety or regulation issues in the area.

With the increased popularity of drones and the cost declining, many operators are buying sophisticated drones and not receiving proper training to understand the dangers of operating outside the guidelines the FAA has set.

TFRs aside, the most common violation is the 400 foot ceiling that drones should not be operated above.  Many recreational drone pilots want to see how high their drone can go, so they push it high up in the sky.  Many drones can get up to three or four thousand feet high.  This is dangerous for many reasons.  One, commercial and general aviation aircraft operate at these altitudes and are traveling at very high speeds.  Too fast to avoid a small drone that is difficult to spot.  Another reason is at higher altitudes, winds can abruptly change and be too high for you to properly control and you may lose your drone.

In 2016, air traffic controllers in Allentown and Reading received 10 reports of drones being spotted in this area at altitudes greater than 2,000 feet.

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