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NEWS | Dec. 21, 2016

What you need to know about drones and small unmanned aircraft systems

502nd Air Base Wing Operations

Drone technologies have advanced to the point where they are safe and affordable to own and will likely find their way into many homes over the holidays.


These systems can be a lot of fun for people of all ages and appear to be here to stay. But before you fly, there are some important things to know about operating drones, also known as small unmanned aircraft systems, or SUAS, at 502nd Air Base Wing and Joint Base San Antonio locations.


Regardless of the purpose for domestic use, protecting privacy, civil rights and civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and the laws of the United States will not be compromised. So before you make that purchase, here are some important things you need to know about operating drones/SUAS on JBSA.


Small unmanned aircraft systems are defined by the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, as small unmanned aircraft weighing from .55 pounds to no more than 55 pounds, including everything that is onboard or otherwise attached to the aircraft and can be flown without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft.


Below are some general and specific requirements that drone owner/operators need to know in order to stay on the right side of the law.


Drone operators should be aware the FAA and federal law requires them to register SUAS registry. 

Users are subject to civil and criminal penalties if they do not register at http://www.faa.gov/uas.


Registration will significantly reduce the likelihood of injury to humans, prevent human suffering, and mitigate property damage. In addition, drones may endanger equipment on the ground and can lead to a security infractions and/or other mishaps. 

Drone owners also need to provide a copy of registration paperwork to the 502nd Air Base Wing Operations Office by calling 808-0698 or 221-9561 for tracking purposes.


Information for the 502nd ABW/JBSA SUAS program, including guidance and registration, is located at the 502nd ABW SharePoint site at https://jbsa.eis.aetc.af.mil/502abw/xp/jb35/default.aspx.


Other specific SUAS requirements include:

• Drones must not be operated during hours of darkness. 

• SUAS equipped with a camera or sensor require the operator comply with FAA guidelines, installation photography guidelines (hobby/recreational) or intelligence oversight requirements (official), as applicable.

• No unofficial SUAS will be operated when the JBSA property is in Force Protection Condition Charlie or Delta.

• All hobby/recreational drone operators shall comply with Section 336 of Public Law 11295.  As of the date of this article, the FAA requirements include the  following:

1. Take offs, landings, and operation of hobby/recreational SUAS from 502 ABW/JBSA lands or waters are not permitted unless the operator (with associated SUAS) has notified, and has been granted specific flight operation from the installation’s airfield operations flight chief/commander, or AO chief, where the operation is to take place. Base operations will be used to contact a particular installation AO chief.  If permitted, operations are limited to Department of Defense identification card holders and will only take place at the AO chief’s granted locations.  Only by exception will an AO chief authorize SUAS flight operations take place outside of Sunday daylight hours, when the installation’s airfield is not active.  Public affairs will be leveraged to ensure community awareness of local policies and changes thereto.

2. Fly below 400 feet above ground level and remain clear of surrounding obstacles

3. Keep the aircraft within visual line of sight at all times

4. Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft

5. When flown within five miles of any airfield/airport, the operator of model aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower with prior notice of the operation, and will give way to any manned aircraft operations. Model operations are highly recommended by the FAA to remain below 400 feet.

6. Do not fly near people or stadiums

7. Applies to drones weighing from .55 to 55 pounds


People living in the local JBSA community are subject to the local rules regarding the use of these systems. It is recommended to contact local community leaders to learn about local restrictions in a particular area.


For those residing in a JBSA housing area, the use of these systems will be governed by the guidelines outlined by the JBSA installation commander.