FAA imposes no-fly zone near St Louis, where civilian drones could be very helpful right now


The Federal Aviation Administration issued a notice on Tuesday that bans low-flying aircraft from a three-mile radius in an area near St. Louis that has seen days of civil unrest after police killed an unarmed teenager.

The FAA notice was spotted and posted by a Twitter user from Los Angeles:

The FAA ban came in the form of a NOTAM or “notice to airmen” which, according to aviation lawyer Brendan Schulman, are not uncommon and are “how the FAA alerts pilots to emergency restrictions and other temporary conditions” like VIP visits.

Here’s a screenshot of the NOTAM, which shows that the ban is in place until the weekend, and applies to airspace up to 3000 feet:

NOTAM screenshot

The FAA and the St. Louis County Police Department did not immediately reply to requests for comment, but reports suggest the ban was imposed after people allegedly fired shots at a police helicopter.

The no-fly zone appears to include media aircraft, though it’s not clear if this also includes civilian drones. According to the lawyer Schulman, “model aircraft” may not be included in the scope of the order, since previous NOTAM’s have specifically included such craft.

For journalists and citizens, such drones could be especially helpful to watch and record what appears to be a spiraling crisis that has brought criticism from many, including soldiers, about the growing militarization of American police forces:

As I’ve reported before, drones have provided key news footage for emergencies like this fire in Harlem. Meanwhile, several journalism schools are trying to launch drone programs but the FAA has so far barred them from doing so.

Update: an executive at drone detection service Drone Shield claims that drones are already barred over Ferguson since the town is within a five-mile radius of St. Louis airport. (Here’s a guide to where you can fly drones).


Dan D

I have been a commercial helicopter and airplane pilot for over 30 years and am quite familiar with Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR’s) such as the one you reference in your article. Here is the FAA Regulation pertaining to TFR’s: Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 91.137. The use of drones for commercial purposes, i.e. news gathering is not currently approved by the FAA. They were hoping to have regulations in place by Sep 15, 2015 but recently stated that the date would not be met.

As stated in the regulation above, flight restrictions are put into place for a number of reasons. “Drones” are never referred to in these TFR’s because they are not currently allowed to fly in the National Airspace System (NAS), except in a very few specific instances; primarily for flight testing. Until the procedures, regulations, pilot training and flight guidelines for drones are put in place by the FAA they provide a serious hazard to both the general public and any aircraft that may be in the area. All current information regarding the current status of drone operations can be found on the FAA’s website: faa.gov

John Steven Livacich

I would only question a limited airspace-in time too many drones shall prove to be hazardous.

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