FAA Bans Drone Flights Above Seven DOE Facilities

Federal aviation agency cites national security concerns in implementing rules involving unmanned aircraft at sites that include former nuclear sites.

3DR

Responding to national security and law enforcement concerns, the Federal Aviation Administration is for the first time restricting drone flights above seven Department of Energy sites.

The new rules come days after federal safety investigators announced the findings of the first National Transportation Safety Board probe into a drone-aircraft collision, this one involving a September incident that dented a blade on a U.S. Army helicopter.

The FAA and DOE agreed to restrict drone flights up to 400 feet within the lateral boundaries of sites that include the Hanford Site, a largely decommissioned nuclear production facility in Franklin County, Washington, and the Pantex Plant, a contaminated former nuclear weapons assembly site in Carson County, Texas. 

Others on the agencies' list include New Mexico's Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Idaho National Laboratory, and South Carolina's Savannah River National Laboratory. Drone restrictions are also being put in place in two DOE facilities in Tennessee: the Y-12 National Security Site and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the aviation agency said Monday in a news release. 

The move comes in response to "concerns about unauthorized drone operations" over the DOE facilities, the FAA said.

The restrictions for unmanned aircraft take effect Dec. 29, and drone operators who violate them could face enforcement actions that include criminal charges and civil penalties.

The FAA has similar airspace restrictions in place over military bases, several large dams, and national landmarks.