Hill outlines policy for operating small drones near base

No drone zone.

(U.S. Air Force graphic by David Perry)

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- As the sale of small drones (also known as “small unmanned aircraft”) increases each year, the Federal Aviation Administration, Defense Department and Air Force have had to establish regulations and policies to accommodate both manned and unmanned aircraft occupying the same airspace.

Similarly, Hill AFB officials have been working with the FAA and small unmanned aircraft users in the community to create local procedures that will enhance safety in the airspace around the base.

“We have partnered with multiple state agencies, commercial companies, and more than 200 small unmanned aircraft users,” said Maj. Justin Puckett, 75th OSS director of operations. “Our goal is to promote a ‘joint airspace’ program that focuses on safety for everyone.”

Hill AFB’s airspace is adjacent to Ogden Regional Airport and Salt Lake City International Airport’s arrival and departure corridors. Hill’s airspace is also a hub for helicopter medical evacuation flights for five area hospitals and U.S. Forest Service operations during fire season.

As it is with other airfields, Hill AFB uses the 5-mile rule.

Puckett said small unmanned aircraft use within controlled airspace can be permitted within 5 miles of Hill AFB with prior airfield management coordination at 801-777-1861, and if airspace restrictions and operations allow it.

However, small unmanned aircraft use is never allowed on or over Hill AFB unless it’s coordinated and approved by the installation commander.

Small unmanned aircraft users can find general FAA operating procedures and guidelines at www.faa.gov/uas/. The website lists requirements for recreational users, commercial users, and describes restrictions for operating around all airfields.

Some general rules:

• Small unmanned aircraft must give way to all manned aviation activities: airplanes, gliders, parachutists, hang gliders, the Goodyear blimp, etc. If it flies or glides, it has the right of way.

• The operator must remain within visual line of sight of the small unmanned aircraft. Operators can’t control or remain clear of other aircraft when they can’t see their own small unmanned aircraft.

• Small unmanned aircraft may not operate over any persons not directly involved in the operation.

• Small unmanned aircraft flights must take place between sunrise and sunset and operate at or below 300 feet in Hill AFB’s airspace.

Puckett said one option small unmanned aircraft operators can use to determine if they are within 5 miles of an airfield is to download the B4UFly app. The free app developed by the FAA is available on both iPhone and Android platforms and can help users know whether there are any restrictions or requirements where they want to fly.

Commercial businesses planning to conduct small unmanned aircraft operations near Hill AFB require a “Certificate of Waiver or Authorization” under FAA requirements listed on the FAA website.

Puckett small unmanned aircraft users who want to fly within Hill AFB’s airspace need to call airfield management at 801-777-1861 at least 30 minutes prior to flight and provide their name, phone number, location of operation, expected start time, intended duration, description of the small unmanned aircraft, and maximum operating altitude not to exceed 300 feet.

Once the operator has completed their flight, they need to contact airfield management to inform them the flight has ended.