Outdoor Ethics: Flying Unmanned Aircraft Systems

If you plan to fly your remote controlled plane, quadcopter, or other unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)—commonly called "drones"—on or over the Coconino National Forest, there are a few things to know before you fly. Whether you fly for work or fun, no matter how big or small your aircraft is, you are required follow Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidance. The FAA is the authority that regulates airspace and flights.


Know Where to Fly

  • Operating, launching, or landing a UAS in a designated Wilderness Area is illegal. Motorized and mechanized equipment is prohibited by federal law in Wilderness Areas. For example, launching and flying a UAS from the following spots is illegal:
    • Bell Rock (Munds Mountain Wilderness)
    • Devil's Bridge (Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness)
    • Humphrey's Peak (Kachina Peaks Wilderness)
    • See the Wilderness Areas Map to see where all ten Wilderness Areas on the Coconino National Forest are located.
  • Recreational flights within five miles of an airport are prohibited without prior authorization. Around the Coconino National Forest, this includes the areas for five miles around Sedona and Flagstaff airports and medical center heliports. See the Sedona Airport No Drone Zone maps and information.
  • Flights in areas with Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) are illegal. The FAA maintains a list of current TFRs.
  • Flying near fire operations puts firefighters and communities in danger. Even if a TFR has not been declared for a fire or emergency incident, do not fly near it.
  • Flights in security sensitive airspaces, and over National Parks and Monuments are prohibited. This includes area like Camp Navajo and Walnut Canyon National Monument.


It is your responsibility to know where unmanned flights are legal. Use the free B4UFly smartphone app to help you determine requirements and restrictions in effect before your aircraft leaves the ground.


Be Smart and Fly Safely

In order to ensure safe flight operations, the FAA has instituted the following rules you must follow when operating a UAS:

  • Keep your aircraft within visual line of sight.
  • Yield right-of-way to manned aircraft.
  • Register your UAS if it weights more than 0.55 pounds. You can register your UAS (up to 55 pounds) with the FAA online registration service.

There are several other regulations and guidelines you should be familiar with before you fly. Hobbyists and other recreational pilots must follow the Special Rule for Model Aircraft. All other UAS pilots flying for reasons other than recreation must follow the Small UAS Rule.


Respect Wildlife

Under Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) rules and regulations, UAS are considered aircraft. Regardless of whether or not you are flying for the purpose of hunting, you must follow the rules and regulations regarding the use of aircraft to scout or hunt wildlife. In short, using an aircraft to harass, herd, or chase wildlife is prohibited. See AZGFD rules and regulations for specific details.


Flying, Photography, and Videography for Work or Business

Are you selling your photos or video? If you intend to make money from the photographs or video from your drone flight, your activity is consider commercial, regardless of whether or not you work for or own a business.

Commercial activity on the Coconino National Forest requires a permit. This includes (but is not limited to) videography, photography, and UAS flights performed for business purposes. Please contact us to inquire about permits for commercial activities. The FAA has special requirements for UAS pilots flying for business or commercial purposes.


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