Flying in Controlled vs. Uncontrolled Airspace

For the purpose of recreational UAS operations, airspace can be viewed in two classifications: controlled and uncontrolled. Controlled airspace encompasses different classifications of airspace and defined areas where air traffic control (ATC) services are provided to full-scale aircraft pilots. With proper authorization, recreational UAS operators can fly in the Class B, C, D, and E. Class G airspace is uncontrolled airspace that has not been designated as Class B, C, D, or E.

Altitude limitations for recreational operators are set by Congress and the FAA and are outlined in U.S.C. 44809. Currently, UAS flights in controlled airspace require LAANC airspace authorization, or a letter of agreement for a club’s fixed flying site. In uncontrolled airspace, recreational users are permitted to fly up to 400 feet above ground level (AGL). 

Obviously, many hobbyists require altitudes higher than currently permitted through LAANC or legislation. AMA is aware of this issue and has been working to specifically address it throughout the past several years. AMA has worked directly with the FAA to obtain authorization allowing specific flying sites to routinely operate above 400 feet AGL when necessary. Our initial efforts have been to address this issue at sites within controlled airspace, and we now have a number of sites that are currently allowed to operate above 400 feet under a letter of agreement with the local ATC facility. We are now working with the FAA to establish a general policy that will allow clubs within Class G airspace to operate above 400 feet as well. We hope to see a resolution to these issues in the future.

Some clubs in controlled airspace might wish to fly at a higher altitude than what is assigned to them on the FAA UAS Facility Map (UASFM) or LAANC app. To do this, they must undergo a Safety Risk Management Panel (SRMP). For example, a club assigned to 100 feet AGL on the UASFM might want to fly at 800 feet AGL.

To begin the process of getting that higher altitude, the club will need to fill out a Letter of Agreement Questionnaire form. The club will then be placed on AMA’s SRMP priority list to await its panel. During the panel, two or three club representatives will meet with AMA and other groups such as the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), the Experiential Aircraft Association (EAA), the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), and the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), along with the FAA and the local ATC center representative and discuss any potential flight risks the club’s flying field could present to the local airspace. SRMPs typically last one or two days and include 30 to 50 industry stakeholders. To date, AMA has had a 100% success rate in getting clubs in controlled airspaces higher altitudes through SRMPs. After the panel has concluded, the club will sign a Letter of Agreement with its local ATC that states the new altitude limit under which the club will be able to operate.

You can read the AMA’s 2021 report where they note successes in obtaining those higher altitudes at: https://amablog.modelaircraft.org/amagov/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2022/01/2021-Government-Affairs-Report.pdf.

To remain current with the most recent government-related news, regularly visit the AMA Government Affairs blog.

If you have any further questions or concerns, contact the Government Affairs department at (765) 287-1256 or amagov@modelaircraft.org.