FAA shuts down 30+ drone clubs near D.C.

WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration has warned more than 30 drone and model aircraft clubs in the Washington, D.C. area they need to stop flying, or risk criminal and civil enforcement.

The FAA, which this month announced drone owners must register their devices with a name and home address by Feb. 19, 2016, has been concerned about the proliferation of model drones, which were top-selling holiday gifts.

Owners of model aircraft weighing up to 55 pounds have to register it with the FAA, or face civil penalties up to $27,500 and criminal penalties up to $250,000 and three years in prison.

In September 2015, as the popularity of drones continued to grow, the FAA extended a 15-mile no-fly zone surrounding Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to 30 miles. Since Sept. 11, 2001 the FAA has cited national security issues as the reason.

In the past, operations of drones outside the Capital Beltway was considered OK — now the no fly zone extends past Dulles International Airport, as the crow flies.

Despite the expansion of the “no drone zone,” approximately three dozen drone and model aircraft clubs surrounding the nation’s capital have operated in large fields, providing a place for hobbyists to safely fly.

Last week the FAA sent an email to the Academy of Model Aircraft, asking the group to shut down all clubs that operate within a 30-mile radius of Reagan National Airport.

“We are hearing reports that some individuals may be flying … even though they know it is in violation of the current airspace restrictions,” Brian Throop, manager of the FAA’s special operations security group, wrote to the AMA and several flying clubs in the region.

“We are asking for your help in spreading the word to the National Capital Region model aircraft community that such activity is subject to enforcement action.”

Several clubs have posted notices at their facilities, and on their websites and social media sites that the FAA has requested all flying operations be discontinued.

According to Motherboard,  the AMA told clubs it expected the FAA to reopen the local clubs sometime in mid-January, and said it is working with the agency to get special permission to continue operations.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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