Can I fly my drone in a National Park?
The short answer is no; the National Park Service (NPS) strictly prohibits the take-off and landing of any uncrewed aerial system (UAS) inside park boundaries and in Wilderness areas or wildlife refugees managed by other federal agencies such as the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. While certain National Forests and non-wilderness BLM lands allow drone usage, it is important to note that drone regulations vary at the state and local levels and even from park to park that are in the same system.
What If I take off outside of the park and fly in?
Some drone operators have attempted to bypass these regulations by taking off from private property and flying over NPS lands. However, it is crucial to note that even if you launch and operate from non-NPS lands, the NPS can still enforce regulations pertaining to wildlife disturbance, nuisance or disorderly conduct, and operating a motor vehicle during your drone flight. As a pilot in command, you also risk your drone accidentally crashing onto NPS lands, which carries significant penalties.
Additionally, compliance with all Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations for UAS operations, including maintaining a visual line of sight, is still mandatory.
What About National Forest and Wilderness Areas?
While flying drones in National Forests is not entirely prohibited, the US Forest Service requires that all drone operations fulfill various restrictions, including adherence to all FAA regulations and guidance, avoiding wildlife, designated wilderness areas, firefighting operations, manned aircraft activities, and temporary flight restrictions (TFRs).
However, while you may be able to operate within a national forest, flying drones in designated Wilderness areas within National Forest land is strictly prohibited. The Wilderness Act of 1964 explicitly declares that in these areas, no motorized equipment, landing of aircraft, or other forms of mechanical transport are allowed. According to the US Forest Service, UAS are classified as “mechanized” equipment, thereby falling under the prohibition of drone take-off and landing in congressionally designated Wilderness areas on National Forest Service Lands.
What is the penalty for launching and landing in a National Park, Wildlife refuge, or Wilderness Area?
According to the NPS website, rule violations are enforced at the discretion of park rangers and carry a maximum of six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Does the AutoPylot App Display National Parks, Wildlife Refugees, and Wildness Areas?
YES, the AutoPylot app displays and outlines national parks, wilderness areas, or wildlife refuges. To further enhance operational awareness, the AutoPylot app will alert drone pilots if their planned operation overlaps a national park, wilderness area, or wildlife refuge by displaying a yellow advisory in the flight checklist that reads “Flight Not Advised.”
Why can I still plan a mission and request LAANC over NPS lands in the AutoPylot App if drone flights are prohibited?
Since some operators may have special permission or waivers to launch and land within national parks (Park Rangers, Conservation Groups), the AutoPylot app displays the park boundaries and alerts pilots to use caution but does not restrict these flights.
It is important to remember that planning a mission or obtaining a LAANC Authorization in NPS lands, wildlife refugees, or wilderness areas does not permit you to launch or land from any of these areas without permission from the park.
How do I get permission to fly my drone within a National Park, Wildlife Refugee, or Wilderness Area?
Drone operators should contact the park superintendent to see if a specific area within the park could allow drones or if they can obtain a special permit.
Where Can I Find More Information?
Pilots can read the original policy, Policy Memorandum 14-05, published on June 19, 2014.
Or visit The official National Park Service UAS website to see:
- Comprehensive information on “Unmanned Aircraft in the National Parks.”
- Covering the reasons behind the restrictions.
- Permit guidelines.
- Penalties for noncompliance.