The FAA Modernization and Reauthorization Act of 2012 made it a requirement for hobbyist drone operators to contact the airport and the air traffic control tower, if one is on the airfield, when operating within five (5) miles of an airport. The notification requirement, now codified under 14 CFR Part 101, Subpart E, provides an opportunity for unsafe drone operations to be disapproved. Making contact with the airport and/or air traffic controller also provides an opportunity for manned aircraft to have greater awareness of drone operations.
Who qualifies as a hobbyist
All of the following requirements must be met to qualify as a hobbyist drone operator:
Determining Whether Your Location Is Legal For Flight And Near An Airport
Drone operators should always determine where the closest airports are to decide if notification is required. Drone operators should also be aware of where manned aircraft may be operating and must also be familiar with other locations where drone operations are prohibited. The following methods can be used to find out where the nearest airports are and if your location is legal:
Contacting The Airport
If you determine your location is legal for drone operations but is within five (5) miles of an airport, you must contact the airport.
The airport will be interested in the following information:
The airport may not say the drone operation is approved, but all that is required is notification for drone operations to take place. If the airport says the operation may be unsafe or that they disapprove the operation, you should fly in another location where you do not need the airport's approval or where the airport states would be acceptable. The FAA has stated that the agency "would consider flying model aircraft over the objections of FAA air traffic or airport operators to be endangering the safety of the NAS." Additionally, the FAA may take enforcement action against a drone pilot who has an FAA-issued certificate, such as a private pilot certificate.
Contacting Air Traffic Control
The best way to find out if an airport has an air traffic control tower on the airfield is to contact the airport and ask. If there is, the airport will be able to supply you with the phone number for the air traffic control tower. Always call ahead as airport personnel are not normally available 24 hours a day and usually have many responsibilities.
Air traffic control is responsible for collecting the following information:
Current FAA guidance states that "when notified of a model aircraft operation, the air traffic control manager or airport management may deny operations if they impact the safety of other operations at the airport. Specific reasons for the objection should be provided to the person by the Air Traffic Control Tower or airport manager at the time of the request and documented." The FAA requires controllers to record any drone activity and any operational issues that it may cause.
Long Term Drone Operations Near An Airport
If flying near or on an airport on a long term basis is desired, the FAA recommends formulating a letter of agreement to establish the procedures and reduce the workload for the airport manager or the traffic control tower and the operator. A letter of agreement normally states where the drone can be flown, restrictions (if any), notification requirements, and any other procedures. To establish a letter of agreement contact the airport manager or the air traffic control facility.