As you make your way North to Atlantic Beach in the Jacksonville, FL area, you quickly find yourself in the restricted airspace of NAS Mayport and the controlled Airspace for JAX. In some instances, it becomes almost impossible to spontaneously decide to fly your drone and capture some great images. You have to be prepared, by being prepared I mean at least seven days in advance in order to properly navigate the regulations to fly within the restricted airspace of NAS Mayport.
I wanted to share my experience with this specific mission in order to hopefully help fellow UAV Pilots understand what they are confronted with and demystify the process. I’ll be using this mission at the Dutton Island Preserve in Atlantic Beach, FL which lies within the restricted Airspace of NAS Mayport as an example. However, the process will be similar in the restricted airspace of most Military Air Stations, especially on the East Coast. These measures will apply whether you are photographing Landscapes or completing a Real-Estate photography contract.
Technically you need to try and obtain an airspace authorization 7 days in advance. I say seven days because it can take the better part of a day to obtain the initial authorization from the FAA. Then you’ll need to coordinate with NAS Mayport 5 days prior to your mission. I was told that this is a requirement on the east coast for most situations involving the US Navy and/or Marines. Naturally, you’ll need to have obtained your Part 107 Certificate before you even venture into the idea of requesting Airspace Authorization within Restricted Airspace.
You can’t get automated LAANC authorization, you need to manually fill out your request at FAA Drone Zone under Part 107, not recreational. After filling in the requested information such as the mission description, max altitude, and radius of operation, you’ll have to be patient. Typically within a few hours, you should receive a phone call from the FAA to clarify the mission parameters. In many cases operating at or below 100ft altitude makes getting the authorization in this type of restricted airspace a little easier. Don’t be intimidated, the people at the FAA have a very professional attitude when contacting you and they assist you the best they can in obtaining your authorization. They will also spend the time necessary to properly inform you on how to proceed once you do get an airspace authorization. If everything adds up and makes sense, you should be getting a PDF with your COA Number documented in your authorization. Note that Airspace Authorizations within these Restricted areas are usually within Civil Sunrise and Civil Sunset prohibiting night operations.
In the case of NAS Mayport and as I understand it, most East Coast Navy and Marine establishments require you to contact ATC 5 days prior to your mission. All the necessary information will be provided in your Airspace Authorization. When contacting ATC, just make sure to communicate as clearly as possible that you have obtained your airspace authorization from the FAA and that you are making initial contact 5 days prior to your mission as per the requirements. They will need your name, organization if there is one, phone number, and naturally your COA number. ATC may also require you to maintain 2-way radio communication with the tower at all times during your mission. If that’s the case, they will inform you of this requirement on your initial call. The frequency will be provided on the day of the mission. You may need to invest in a handheld aviation radio if you haven’t already done so. An aviation scanner and your phone is sometimes all you may need. If there are no conflicting operations in the area covered by your authorization, you probably won’t hear back from ATC.
On the day of your mission itself, you will need to contact ATC 60 minutes prior to your first flight. Although everything should go smoothly, there’s always the chance that some last-minute decision may be made to cancel your mission. Just be prepared for a worst-case scenario. If you need to maintain 2-way radio communications with ATC, that’s when a frequency will be given to you. From that point on, it should be business as usual. Naturally, you will still need to abide by Federal, State, and Local regulations.
If you have a DJI Drone, your DJI Fly APP has Geo-Fencing that will prevent you from flying within Restricted Airspace. You will have to visit Fly Safe – DJI –https://www.dji.com/flysafe and provide the necessary information for DJI to unlock the authorized airspace within your DJI Profile. You will need to provide them with an electronic copy of your Authorization and define the exact area you are authorized to fly. I did have some problems with the site functioning properly under the Edge Browser but Firefox worked out well. I received the DJI Authorization within minutes. My last step was to synchronize that authorization within my DJI Fly app. Once synchronized you still get all the Restricted Airspace Warnings, but you can fly. Just give your drone a minute of hovering to make sure you clear all the prompts prior to executing your mission.
As a cautionary note, if you can not get approval above 100 feet, be aware that some trees are pretty close to the 100-foot mark if not taller. That’s something to be very careful of should you lose control of your drone and it initiates a RETURN-TO-HOME. In Restricted Airspace, the maximum altitude is an absolute value AGL and can’t be added to the height of any structures. Should you lose control of your UAV in a FLY-AWAY situation, you will need to contact ATC immediately and inform them of the last known position, altitude, direction, and remaining flight time of your UAV.
Hopefully, everything went well and all that is left to do is to contact ATC to inform them that you have completed your UAV operations within their Restricted Airspace.
Hopefully, this information gives you valuable insight as to what to expect in a similar scenario. Dutton Island Preserve is pretty much in the outskirts of the restricted airspace. When you operate closer to an Airfield, make sure you understand all the regulations and meaning of the prohibited areas and their geographic outlines. There are many regulations and Federal Laws to respect. For one, photographing military installations without Authorization is a serious crime. Make sure you also read all the NOTAMS, you’re still responsible to make sure you comply with all the temporary flight restrictions in accordance with 14 CFR 107.45 and 107.49.
You can visit the complete Photo Gallery @ https://photos.tempusaura.com/dutton-island-preserve-atlantic-beach-florida-aerial-drone-photography
For those of you who just want to enjoy the Dutton Island Preserve for a short hike, fishing, kayaking, or even some family camping, I encourage you to visit the website: Dutton Island Preserve | The Atlantic Beach Official Website! (coab.us)
Dutton Island Preserve
793 Dutton Island Rd W
Atlantic Beach, FL32233