The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) extended its no-fly zone around the Washington D.C. area, which means no one within a 30-mile radius of the Ronald-Reagan Washington National Airport can fly a drone.
As Motherboard first reported, the ruling has also prompted 36 drone clubs to shut down
The area surrounding Washington D.C. has always faced greater restrictions than any other part of the United States by being dedicated a Special Flights Rule Area (SFRA). Those flying in the SFRA were subject to greater restrictions, regarding where and how high they could fly, as a result.
After 9/11, the SFRA restrictions were made applicable for drones and model aircrafts as well. In September, the FAA put in place further restrictions for those flying drones and model aircrafts in the SFRA, ruling that anywhere 15 miles outside of the White House was a no-fly zone.
Andrew Wachholz, a member who does digital marketing for drone hobbyist group Free State Aeromodeler, told Tech Insider that that his club fell 14.86 miles outside the White House, which didn't mean it was clear whether the club would have to shut down in September.
Free State Aeromodeler is accredited by the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), an official national body for model aviation.
In late December, the FAA issued D.C. a no-fly zone, making it illegal to fly within a 30-mile radius of the Ronald-Reagan Washington National Airport. The FAA then reached out to several drone hobbyist groups ordering them to shut down their operations.
As a result, 36 drone clubs in the surrounding area have shut down, 14 of which are accredited by the AMA.
Associated Press/ Noah Berger
"The cease-and-desist of flying altogether was a little bit of a surprise," Wachholz said. "The FAA wasn't being as blunt [in September] as they are now."
Brian Throop, manager of special operations security for the FAA, sent all clubs falling within the 30-mile radius the following email Dec. 23:
As we continue our efforts to develop a plan for the resumption of model aircraft operations in the Washington, D.C. Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA), we are hearing reports that some individuals may be flying inside the SFRA even though they know it is in violation of the current airspace restrictions. We are asking for your help in spreading the word to the National Capitol Region model aircraft community that such activity is subject to enforcement action, and could damage our efforts to secure the interagency concurrence that is critical to this effort.
The email notes that many clubs have extended invitations to the FAA to visit their sites in an effort to allow drone flying to resume — invitations which the FAA hopes to take up "in the near future."
The AMA told Wachholz that they are hoping to give the green light for the groups affected by the decision to fly again come mid-January, but Wachholz said he has his doubts.
"I think we're going to be sitting tight and grounded for a couple of months," he said.
He added that issuing the new ruling around Christmas means anyone in the area who received a new drone can't learn to fly them safely through these hobbyist groups.
In December, the FAA announced its mandatory drone registration program, requiring all drone owners who own a device between half a pound to 55 pounds to register it with the government.
The FAA noted prior to the ruling that a task force was pursuing a mandatory registration program because drones were expected to be a popular gift this holiday season, with 70,000 new drones expected in households by the end of this year.
Wachholz said he doesn't forsee Free State Aeromodeler being adversely affected by the no-fly zone ruling in the next year, but that the number of members could "significantly drop" if the FAA doesn't allow them to open soon.
"The FAA is currently working with a number of organizations to examine options that could possibly allow some types of model aircraft to resume operations at certain locations within the SFRA," a FAA spokesperson told Tech Insider via email.