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Flying a drone in the Washington D.C area


For a lot of obvious reasons... and certainly others not so... the Washington, D.C. area is a very protected place in the United States, and the airspace around it is more restricted than in any other part of the country. Rules established after September 11th, 2001 set up a "National Defense Airspace" over the area and limit all aircraft operations to those with a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) authorization. UAS (drones, rc planes, etc.) rules were refined in 2015 after a drone crashed landed on White House grounds. 

The National Capital Region is governed by a Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) within a 30-mile radius of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which restricts all flights in the greater DC area. The SFRA is further divided into a 15-mile radius inner ring, the Washington DC Flight Restricted Zone (DC FRZ). Violators of the airspace restrictions in these areas face stiff fines and criminal penalties.


Here are the basic requirements presented by the FAA for operating a UAS within the SFRA and DC FRZ:

  • Flying an unmanned aircraft within the 15-mile radius inner ring is prohibited without specific FAA authorization.

  • Experienced Part 107 and public aircraft operators with justification can file your request through the on-line Airspace Access Program (AAP)

  • A TSA/FAA waiver and an SGI/COA is required

  • Flying a drone for recreational or non-recreational use between 15 and 30 miles from Washington, D.C. is allowed under these operating conditions:

    • Aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs. (including any attachments such as camera, lights, etc.)

    • Aircraft must be registered on the FAA DroneZone website and the number clearly displayed on the drone.

    • Fly below 400 ft.  (We recommend staying well below that)

    • Fly within visual line-of-sight at all times

    • Fly in clear weather conditions

    • Never fly near other aircraft (There is a lot of air traffic in the DC SFRA)


As you can see, the FAA requirements for flying in the outer ring of the SFRA (15 to 30 mile) are fairly straightforward.  All UAS pilots should be aware of the airspace they are operating in, as Northern Virginia is filled with airports, military bases, national parks, and other "no fly" zones... so with that much air traffic, be sure to check your maps and always notify before you fly!  The Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) system was established by the FAA so all aircraft, manned and unmanned, can be aware of each others location in the sky.  There is a lot of responsibility that comes along with sharing airspace, and can be often taken for granted while flying a UAS.  We recommend using the B4UFLY app or website (partnered with the FAA) to check airspace and use their LAANC service to notify about your flight(s). 

Federal law requires all recreational flyers to pass an aeronautical knowledge and safety test. The FAA developed The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) to meet this requirement. All recreational drone flyers need to understand the requirements of US Code 49 U.S.C 44809 for flying safely and pass TRUST. After you pass the test, you will receive a completion certificate. Be sure to keep this required certificate with you when you fly your drone.

All commercial flights operate under the FAA Part 107 Small UAS Rule (check your flight here), and the operator must obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA.  Certificated Part 107 pilots must complete an online recurrent training every 24 calendar months to 'maintain aeronautical knowledge recency'.  Have your license on you during every commercial flight.  Please visit the FAA's web page for instructions on becoming a certified UAS pilot.

All drones or model aircraft weighing .55 lbs or more should be registered on the FAA DroneZone website, and the number needs to be displayed on the body of the aircraft. Recreational or Commercial registration costs $5 per drone and is valid for three (3) years.  Once registered, a drone cannot be transferred between types (recreational/commercial)

How to fly a drone in the DC FRZ


To fly in the inner 15-mile airspace, the DC FRZ, it is a bit more complicated, and requires a TSA/FAA waiver, a SGI/COA approval, a Part 107 UAS pilot license, and detailed scrutiny by multiple government agencies... Sounds daunting!..  It is and it isn't.  The process is quite straight-forward, and there are people available to help with the requests, but each is evaluated case-by-case; subject to geographical location, pilot credentials, aircraft type and registration, purpose of flight and other relevant details.

There are no recreational UAS flights allowed in the DC FRZ.

The information for setting up a flight in the DC FRZ is publicly available from the FAA and TSA, but it is not quite all presented in a single area, and is somewhat overwhelming for individuals that are newer to commercial flying or submitting waivers.  On this page we are hoping to simplify the information for the FAA/TSA waiver process and present as much of it in one area as we can.  We will do our best to keep this information as updated as possible.

UAS operations inside the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Flight Restricted Zone (DC FRZ) are prohibited unless the operator obtains a waiver through the TSA/FAA waiver process. This airspace is defined under the Code of Federal Regulations Title 14 Section 93.335... see also FAA Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) FDC 9/1811 and FDC 0/0053.  The FAA and TSA have developed a process to review waiver requests; subject to completion of: an air safety review, a security threat assessment, and a detailed review of the proposed UAS flight operations.

At this time, requests for Part 107 operations within seven nautical miles of the DCA VOR/DME (Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport) and/or near sensitive locations—for commercial interests—will be conditional, and limited to minimum scope if authorized.  Purely promotional requests—scenic vistas, sightlines or viewshed, virtual tours, etc.—are not routinely authorized.

Requests for waivered UAS operation in the DC FRZ must clearly state and support a compelling need for operations at singular location, project site or infrastructure (i.e. address, building, construction site, public utility), as described in the client/sponsor letter (explained below)Operations requesting diverse or wide-spread operating locations will only be considered for projects with significant public interest or in support of infrastructure.


To request a waiver to operate a UAS in the DC FRZ, the operator will undergo a two-part wavier vetting process that addresses safety (FAA SGI/COA) and security (TSA).


Here is the process for obtaining a waiver to fly a drone within the 15-mile radius of Washington D.C. (The DC FRZ):

  • UAS operator must have a valid FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate and the UAS must be registered as a commercial aircraft with the FAA and clearly marked with the registration number
  • Create an account (or log in) and start an application via the TSA/FAA Waiver and Airspace Access Program (AAP) at WAIVERS.FAA.GOV

  • Waiver applicants must also complete a FAA SGI/COA application. The FAA SGI/COA application can be downloaded and must be included when submitting the TSA/FAA waiver. Be sure that the start/stop dates of the SGI/COA match those submitted on your waiver application. You can find the application here: UAS COA Online System.  or here: UAS-SGI/COA Waiver Request Form

  • The waiver application process for the operation in request will require brief summaries for the following:

    • A compelling need or purpose as clearly stated in the client letter (see Documentation below)

    • The scope (number and size) of all requested or supporting operations

    • The duration and/or frequency of all requested operations

    • Must describe operations requesting: live video, broadcast delay or telecast, etc.

Note: You will include this operational summary in the “Purpose/Comments” section, located under the “Itinerary” tab in your AAP application. Failure to identify this information as directed may delay the processing of your application.

  • The following documents will also be needed to complete the waiver process:

    • A Completed FAA SGI/COA Application (as explained above)

    • Waiver Application and Client/Sponsor Letters

    1. Letter of Application from the UAS operator or general contractor

      • A letter, on official letterhead (from the agency, company or general contractor conducting the UAS operations), to TSA that documents the purpose for the requested UAS waiver, and must address alternatives to using UAS, including why it is not feasible to conduct the operation using a crewed aircraft—reduced operational cost does not suffice for justification. UAS waivers for operation in the FRZ are only considered when a compelling need is documented.  The application letter must be signed and dated, including the signatory’s title, phone number, and e-mail address.

        Address the letter to:
          Airspace Authorizations/Waivers Supervisor
          TSA Federal Air Marshal Service – Mailstop 6018
          6595 Springfield Center Drive
          Springfield, VA 20598

    2. Client Letter from the requesting agency, company or entity—normally the owner, tenant or steward of the operating location

      • A Client letter (from the requesting agency, company or entity) explicitly requesting the services of the waiver applicant (UAS Operator), typically referred to as a “statement of work”, on official letterhead from the Client, and must be dated and signed by a company employee/entity with the appropriate authority to authorize the requested service(s). This letter must specifically identify the compelling need, scope, and duration/frequency of the requested work. In cases of subcontracting, the client letter must identify each UAS company/operator providing services in support of the primary UAS contractor/operator’s statement of work.

    3. Government Sponsor Letter (If the operation is within seven nautical miles of the DCA VOR/DME)

      • A written endorsement from a government agency with jurisdiction for the proposed area of operations. 

Note: The Client Letter and Government Sponsor Letter are valid for six months from the date of signature. Do not mail letters. Upload all letters as a PDF with the online application.

  • Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) Coordination for operations within a seven nautical mile radius of the DCA VOR/DME:

These operations are subject to additional security requirements, and wavier applicants must coordinate with the NCRCC Law Enforcement Desk (LE Desk), in order to identify the responsible agency with jurisdictional authorities for your proposed operating area. The NCRCC LE Desk can be reached at (866) 598-9528. After coordinating with the responsible agency/LEO, you must copy the LEO contact information (name and phone number) provided to you by the LE Desk into the “Purpose/Comments” section of your AAP waiver application. Applicants must also clearly identify the observing LEO in the “Day Prior Notification” email (explained below with "notifications are required to execute your waiver").

  • Application Maps:

  1. Detailed Map showing precise operating location(s), clearly marked with launch/recovery and flight path area(s). Otherwise known as a Large Scale Map: limited coverage with lots of detail.

  2. Overview Map showing the Washington DC area with the Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ) airspace, Prohibited Airspace P-56A/B, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), and the requested operating location(s) all clearly visible on the map. Otherwise known as a Small Scale Map: area-wide coverage with minimal detail.

It is highly suggested to utilize the FAA’s website, Visualize it: See FAA UAS Data on a Map, to assist in generating your application maps.

  • UAS Characteristics and Identification:

  1. UAS Amplifying Data (This information can usually be found in your aircraft manuals or manufacturer documentation)

    a.  Provide a brief statement of the UAS make/model and performance specifications.

    b.  State the maximum flight endurance (in time and range) for each UAS under normal operating conditions

    c.  Describe the “lost link” behavior for each UAS (does the device return-to-home, hover in place, etc.)

  2. FAA issued UAS registration number

  3. UAS Serial Numbers (Aircraft and Controller)

  4. Color photographs of each UAS—with registration marks clearly visible

  • The crewmember requirements for the waiver application manifest must contain, at minimum, one current, FAA-certified remote pilot in command (RPIC) with a small UAS rating, and one crewmember that will serve as the On-Site Communicator (OSC) (described below). All persons actively participating or manifested for waivered FRZ UAS operations must be at least 18 years of age.

    • The On-Site Communicator (OSC) is a unique crewmember and a direct participant for small-UAS waivered-operations, and must be on-site anytime the UAS waiver is activated and authorized to operate or operating—until the TSA/FAA has been notified that flight operations are terminated. This is required in the FRZ and the OSC should not be simultaneously assigned or engaged in additional roles or tasks (RPIC or pilot) that might delay or prevent them from performing required duties. 

      • The OSC should contact the TSA-NCRCC at the beginning and end of waivered UAS flight operations, and anytime the identified OSC and/or contact telephone number changes. 

      • The RPIC, the person manipulating the flight controls of the small unmanned aircraft system (if another crewmember will manipulate the flight controls) and the OSC must maintain effective communication with each other at all times.

      • The OSC must be able to immediately answer telephone calls from or place calls to the TSA/FAA for control, coordination, and information exchange.

      • The OSC must be able to immediately communicate TSA/FAA instructions—in real time— to the RPIC and the person manipulating the flight controls of the small unmanned aircraft system.

      • The OSC must immediately report to TSA/FAA: any incidents, accidents, loss of control, loss of UAS or significant deviation/interference related to the waivered UAS operations.

    • The Remote Pilot in Command (RPIC) listed on your waiver application must include the certificate number of at least one current, FAA-certified remote pilot with a small UAS rating, who will act as the RPIC during waivered UAS operations in the DC FRZ.

    • You will need to include any additional crewmembers needed for your operation, as well as any additional remote pilots that will be manipulating flight controls.

  • For concurrent operation of multiple UAS, you must note how many UAS will fly for each operation, and whether more than one UAS will fly concurrently at the same operating site.  Each UAS must be assigned a dedicated Remote Pilot in Command and On-site Flight Coordinator, and maintained at all times.
  • UAS waivers are normally issued for a maximum of 30 days. Request the minimum time required to complete your operation. It is recommend to add an additional seven (7) work days to all requests for delays due to weather or security operations.

Due to a number of safety and security concerns associated with UAS flights in this sensitive airspace, your application will be reviewed by multiple government and law enforcement agencies. Allow a minimum of 15 working days for review once you have submitted your application with the information requested below. The review process may take more time if the TSA needs additional information.

  • Once your waiver request is approved, you will receive an Airspace Authorization-Waiver letter (via email) from the FAA, which stipulates the waiver conditions, limitations, and step-by-step instructions to notify and execute the waiver. This letter will also provide the telephone and email contacts to provide mandatory notifications to the National Capital Region Coordination Center (NCRCC). Strict adherence to the wavier execution process is required.

    Note: You must also have your valid SGI/COA issued by the FAA System Operations Security Center to utilize the DC FRZ UAS Airspace Authorization-Waiver.  Be sure to review your FAA SGI/COA prior to executing your waiver.

  • The following notifications are required to execute your waiver:

    1. On the day prior to your expected operations, the UAS operator (waiver holder) must send an email-notification to the NCRCC no later than 1600 (4pm eastern time). To facilitate this, you will receive an email-template from the UAS Coordination Unit (NCRCC-UCU) once your waiver is approved.

    2. Cancellation of Planned Operations: If unforeseen factors cause the planned operations to be canceled, you must notify the NCRCC of the cancelation via email as soon as possible.

    3. On the day of your waivered operations, the On-Site Communicator (OSC) must contact the NCRCC at (844) 243-2648, “15 minutes prior” to operating any UAS device(s).

      Note: If this operation will be conducted within seven nautical miles (<7nm) of the DCA VOR/DME, the required Law Enforcement Officer(s) must also be present during the “15-minute prior” call, and must remain on-site until all operations (<7nm) are complete.

    4. Extended operations after initial activation: UAS operators will be authorized to conduct UAS flights in two-hour flight blocks. The On-Site Communicator (OSC) may contact the UCU watch to request waiver extensions in two hour increments, as their mission dictates.

    5. Terminate operations: Be aware that airspace-security requirements can result in operational delays or scheduling adjustments. The on-site communicator must be on-site and able to: immediately answer telephone calls from the TSA/FAA for control, coordination and information exchange, and to immediately communicate TSA/FAA instructions—in real time—to the remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls of the small unmanned aircraft system.

      Note: The Remote Pilot in Command (RPIC) is accountable, and must ensure that the on-site communicator (OSC) maintains communications with the TSA/FAA during all UAS operations. If the TSA, FAA or any other external agency needs to speak with the RPIC, the OSC will immediately communicate this to the RPIC. The RPIC will safely terminate all operations and then communicate with the caller.

Visual line of sight (VLOS) of the UAS, with vision that is unaided by any device other than corrective lenses, is required by the remote pilot in command, the visual observer (if one is used), and the person manipulating the flight control of the small unmanned aircraft system must be able to see the unmanned aircraft throughout the entire flight in order to:

  1. Know the unmanned aircraft's location

  2. Determine the unmanned aircraft's attitude, altitude, and direction of flight

  3. Observe the airspace for other air traffic or hazards

  4. Determine that the unmanned aircraft does not endanger the life or property of another

Note: Throughout the entire operation of the UAS, visual line of sight must be exercised by the RPIC at all times. Use of a visual observer does not relieve the RPIC of this requirement or the see-and-avoid responsibilities set out in 14 CFR §107.


Click here to view the TSA document detailing this waiver process. 


Drone Operation in the DC FRZ

Drone operations are still a viable and valuable solution in the DC FRZ... There is a growing community of drone pilots in the D.C. area, offering a wide range of services.  The benefits that UAS solutions offer are as equally important in this area as anywhere else in the world, there is just an obvious need for higher security and public safety.  With FAA/TSA approval, drone flights are conducted quite regularly in the DC FRZ, and are greatly utilized across many different industries.  With the proper goverment acceptance, and knowledgeable and experienced part 107 UAS pilots like us, your next aerial project may be suitable for a DC FRZ UAS flight waiver.

What does this mean for Aerial Real Estate Photography in Washington D.C.?... When it comes to marketing, it seems will depend on how important or valuable the subject may be for the greater public.  The TSA & FAA look for "compelling" reasons for drone operation in the DC FRZ, so marketing that offers better information or greater access to areas of interest to the public, or commercial/residential properties that serve local businesses or support the community.  Depending on where you're requesting your flight, there will be various government agencies reviewing the application, and though the airspace is very secure, the value of local marketing is still taken seriously... it is just that safety for everyone prevails all else.

When to decide to request a waiver... If you think a UAS solution holds a high value to your subject, and you can invest in the waiver process, then it may be worth the effort to get authorization.  For the sake of overall safety and the responsibility that comes with operating in an area with so much air traffic, it is always suggested to find alternatives to flying an unmanned aircraft in sensitive areas.  When you're ready to utilize drone operations for your next project, we would be glad to offer our Aerial UAS Services to obtain the proper FAA Flight Waiver and let our experienced pilot carry out the mission!



We have obtained FAA waivers for many different projects!

 Let us fly your next DC FRZ aerial project! 






We try to keep this information accurate and as updated as possible.  Please do not stop at this page when learning to legally and safely operate a UAS in the DC SFRA or DC FRZ.  Please refer to the FAA and TSA websites for the most current information on drone and UAS safety and licensing.  There are links to various web pages throughout this article, and we encourage you to follow and research each resource.  We cannot be held responsible for your flights, or how you interpreted the information presented on this page.