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Real world FAA compliance in downtown San Francisco
1034 7 2016-3-4
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Dan
lvl.2
Flight distance : 408054 ft
United States
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Ok.  There was a thread recently complaining about the hoops to jump through in San Francisco in order to be able to fly.  I thought I would share my experience in what it really takes to follow the rules.  Generally I try to avoid areas where there are restrictions, but the Bay area is one of my favorite places in the world and I decided I would take the drone and give it a shot.  I really try hard to follow the rules and am a licensed pilot, so I have a good appreciation for the safety aspects.

I decided to fly from Crissy Field near the Golden Gate Bridge:
https://www.google.com/maps/place/Crissy+Field/@37.8039069,-122.4640618,15z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x5b15912201aa3600

The FAA app says there are six heliports within the 5 mile radius.  The app doesn't give you contact information.  Fortunately, I am able to look up the FAA information for each facility.  I also give the exact location based on the flight navigation aids so that I can make it very easy for them to communicate to air traffic control or pilots if they need to.

One of the heliports appears to be privately owned and the phone number is disconnected.  I have no way of knowing whether the facility is still open.  (Many private facilities are taken down and it takes eyars before the FAA actually knows this.)  In the end, I document the information and a record that I had tried to call the last known number.  (Just for fun, I try to Google the person's name to see if there is an alternate phone number, but I don't find anything.)

One of the facilities is listed as Alcatraz Island and I have to contact the Park Ranger there.  I get a voice mail, but a bit later I get a call from him.  Very pleasant fellow.  His only issue is that there are restrictions over flying over the seabird colonies and they need a specific height (which is more than 400').  I think he knows that makes the fly-over even harder from a regulatory perspective, but he is very polite and not the least bit discouraging.  I explain that I am not flying anywhere near the island and he is happy and wishes me well.

Two of the facilities are owned by the police.  I though these were going to be the hardest ones.  As it turns out, in one case the one facility just laughed and said they would take a note and put it in the master call log.  That has nothing to do with the actual heliport and I gathered I may have been the first call.  The second one just let me leave a message, but it was also unclear whether anyone associated with the actual heliport would actually be contacted.

The other two were medical facilities.  One said they had never heard of this and they didn't know what to do.  I asksed for someone associated with the heliport and they didn't know.  Mind you, I had called the FAA-provided number, so I gave them the location, the time, and the height range I would be flying and ased her to take a note.  Once again I documented that I had mad the call just in case there were future problems.

The last one was the hardest.  It was an active facility for transporting patients.  I did manage to find someone associated with the heliport and they took my information and said they would call back.  She understood exactly what quadcopters were.  A bit later they did call back and they said I needed to contact the FAA.  I gently explained that I had already done all the proper FAA contacts and that I was required, according to the rules, to notify them that I woud be operating within 5 miles of their facility.  She decided to get the actual air director involved.  He called close to the time I had told the facilities that I would be flying.  The air director said he understood that I was calling to get their permission to fly.  At this point this was the first real aviation guy I was talking to and I wanted to make sure that I presented the drone community in a positive light, especially since this appeared to be their first interaction and their helicopters flew at exactly the heights I intended to operate.  I very politly but firmly said that I wasn't actually calling for their permission, merely to notify them per the FAA regulations.  That being said, I explained, that if there was absolutely anything he wanted I would absolutely accommodate him because I wanted this to be a positive experience. He explained that they flew at a particular location.  Not only was that location not in the area I had described, it wasn't even within range.  I decided the best thing to do was put a positive spin on it and tell him emphatically that I would ensure that I would stay well away from that area in order to avoid any problems.  He looked up the flight schedule and gave me the times when to expect aircraft (which was irrelevant since I wasn't in the area, but I took the information anyways.)

So here was the bottom line:  the FAA rules are basically useless.  Regardless of whether they have the Congressional authority, they don't provide a way to contact the facilties they want us to contact.  Second, their heavy-handed approach has facilities believing that drone pilots need permission, which they do not (except in ATC situations such as near major airports).  Only the Park Ranger seemed familiar with drones (and since they have had pre-FAA incidents that makes sense).  No one else knew what to do.  Either drone pilots aren't following the rules and calling or there just haven't been enough contacts for the facility providers to have processes.  I suspected that was the case which is why I went through such detailed lengths to documents contacts, times, phone calls, etc.  I don't need any legal headaches and we, as a community, need to be seen as responsible and making the attempt to be good citizens of the airspace.

At the end of the day it was pretty foggy, but at least I got a few pictures.  The photography turned out to be a secondary experience to following the rules, but I was glad for both opportunities.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge
2016-3-4
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torinodave
lvl.2

United States
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The area is noted as a national park. There is a no quads rule already in place since 2014. Golden Gate also falls under this. Kinda harsh I know but dam if you do and dam if you dont. You put so much effort in the area airports that the national park rule could of caused you trouble too. Where does it stop!?
2016-3-4
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Dan
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Flight distance : 408054 ft
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Right.  I should have mentioned that specifically in the post.  Since you can't fly in the national park I made a point to launch from the water.  Once your toes are in the water you aren't in the park.  Only works for "navigable bodies" of water like the ocean, bays, and most rivers.  I couldn't fly from Golden Gate on the other side because of the rules, but could have flown on the south east side where there is a place you can get to the water.
2016-3-4
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dewdog.2
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Excellent article.  All your points on B4UFly are valid.  I live in San Juan Islands which has 11 airports within 5 miles.  Knowing I did not need 'permission' nor give details, I decided to send each a form letter that would 'notify' them.  It includes reference to the law, info that I am registered and follow the safety guidelines plus added phone if they wanted more info.  I mailed to some 23 class G airports that I may be near at one time or another.  Got only 5 calls back and all were positive with most just wondering what the letter was for.

Here is text of what I sent, I adjusted flight location co-ordinates as needed for each airport.  Sent to airports, helipads and seaplane ports.


                                                     January 19, 2016

Anacortes Airport - 74S
Josh Beaner, Mgr
BOX 297
ANACORTES, WA 98221

Notice of UAS operations under Public Law 112-95 Sec.336(a)(5).

Pilot: Dave W
       2618 xx Ave. #4
       Anacortes, WA 98221

Registered with FAA and AMA.

Flight times: As determined by Pilot
Location: Within 5 nm. radius of Seafarers Memorial Park (48°30'37.4"N 122°36'22.7"W)
Maximum Flight Level: 400' AGL

Flight Restrictions:
- Flight Safety Rules of AMA shall be observed.
- Safety Guidelines of FAA Small UAS Certificate of Registration shall be observed.

--------

Information Contact phone 000-000-0000
2016-3-4
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Adam Flurk
First Officer
Flight distance : 425466 ft
United States
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Wow, sooo foggy!
2016-9-21
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KM5RG-Robert
Captain
Flight distance : 2075213 ft
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torinodave Posted at 2016-3-4 23:49
The area is noted as a national park. There is a no quads rule already in place since 2014. Golden G ...

It's my understanding that in reference to National Parks, you cannot take off, land or control your aircraft from within the park boundaries. That being said, you can take off, land and operate your aircraft from outside the park boundaries and still fly in the airspace over the park.
2016-9-21
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ProQuad
Second Officer
Flight distance : 14114688 ft
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United States
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Dan,  I am here in San Francisco and before I wanted to fly i did read your post as well as others on this city and I agree with you 100%.  This is one of the biggest pain in the back side ever.  I got so many different answers that I decided NOT to fly.  A few of the heliports I did get in contact with did say they were OK with it as long as I was NOT with in 1 mile of there heliport.  The City called me back and said they did not have an issue with it but did not have jurisdiction over the areas that I want to fly.

Wanted to take off/land from Pier 41 area fly over to BUT NOT OVER Alcatraz.  Also wanted to take off/land from Marina Green and Chrissy Field to get some shots of the bridge.

This is the weekend (6-11-17) that the Escape from Alcatraz tri is happening and wanted to make a video of my wife (whom is in it) in the event.  My intentions were to get some footage of the bridge and Island either before or after the event because I know that there would be WAY too many people around.

When I was at Marina Green I asked, I think one of the directors, if I could fly and what I wanted to film.  I kind of got reprimanded on the subject and was told that I could ONLY take off/land/operate from a boat.  He also told me that they tried to do the same but getting a "permit" from the city was impossible.

I just don't know and i almost don't want to do this anymore with no one knowing what's what.  I know all the rules and do's and don't's, were I can fly, talk off, land, operate, etc. because I would like to think that I am...somewhat educated on this subject from reading on this forum, going to web sites for National Park, City guidelines, etc.  taking to other quad users that I feel are more educated on this subject than I am.  

Sorry, I'm just rambling, but wanted to share my experiences with you.  I am ALMOST tempted to get up early on Monday and just go do it.  I can, of course, only assume that most of the people will be not in the park early at Chrissy Field and could do this "fast".

I also don't want to be "that guy" and screw it up for everyone else.
2017-6-10
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Dan
lvl.2
Flight distance : 408054 ft
United States
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I probably should have clarified about the National Park issue (Crissy field).  I used a nautical law loophole in that once your feet are in the water you are no longer in the park.  That is considered "navigable water" from a legal perspective and you aren't subject to the National Park takeoff/landing issues.  I try really hard to comply with both the law and the intent, but there are a few cases where I push the envelope from a legal perceptive.  I could have shot from the public sidewalk by Crissy field but I wanted to be able to see the drone better.
2017-8-8
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