UAS (Drones) Exempt from Mode C Veil around Class B Airport? – Asked of and Answered by FAA…

In multiple discussions over the past year or so, the question of the Mode C veil around a Class B airport applies to “drones” has come up. With a lack of an ability to definitively

Here is what was asked: (Click Here to See the Full Letter that Was Sent to the FAA Chief Legal Counsel)

Interpretation is requested on the following:

“Are small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or “drones”) exempted in hobby or commercial use from the requirement to operate with a Mode C transmitting transponder when operating within the lateral limits of Mode C veil requirements around Class B airspaces without prior approval, coordination with, or authorization from the supervising ATC facility?”

In consideration of the following:

  • § 1.1 defines an “aircraft” as “a device that is used or intended to be used for flight in the air”, and to which the FAA has applied this regulation to any UAS of “drone” of greater than .55 lbs for requirement of registration;
  • § 91.215 (b)(2) requires that a transponder with altitude encoding capability be used “In all airspace within 30 nautical miles of an airport listed in Appendix D, section 1, of this part from the surface upward to 10,000 feet MSL.” (of FAR part 91);
  • § 91.215 (d) requires any deviation from this compliance “be made to the ATC facility having jurisdiction over the concerned airspace within the time periods…” of operation and meeting the compliance requirements of FAR 91.215(d)(1), (2), and (3);
  • It is understood that a UAS or “drone” intending to conduct operations in Class B, C, D and E airspace need ATC approval. In this case, underlying a Class B airspace will most commonly exist Class E airspace, however, in some cases, Class G airspace may exist underneath a Class B airspace shelf. In either case, the question proposed here shall not be considered to be intended to imply operation within the Class B vertical airspace shelf limits, but be underneath or laterally to the side yet still within the Mode C transponder requirement veil that exists outside of most Class B airspace designated airports; as per §107.41   Operation in certain airspace it is understood that no person may operate a small unmanned aircraft in Class B, Class C, or Class D airspace or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport unless that person has prior authorization from Air Traffic Control (ATC);
  • These operations are not “operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization” as designated in FAR 101;
  • § 91.1 does not currently exempt the applicability of FAR 107 operated aircraft; (* SEE NOTE BELOW)
  • This would not be requesting interpretation of operations of aircraft subject to the provisions of part 101 or any operation that a remote pilot in command elects to conduct pursuant to an exemption issued under section 333 of Public Law 112-95, unless otherwise specified in the exemption.

One FAA FAQ document notes the following, “the FAA notes that operations conducted under part 107 do not need to comply with part 91 unless explicitly directed by part 107. The transponder requirement in the mode C veil (14 CFR part 91.215(b)(2)) is not required of part 107 operations.” However, current regulatory guidance I have been able to find does not support that statement at this time.

In response to these questions, the FAA provided an answer that highlighted the following (Click Here to See the Full Letter the FAA Chief Legal Counsel representative Provided for Response):

“Section 91.1(f) is explicit in its treatment of Part 107:

Except as provided in § 107.13, 107.27, 107.47, 107.57, and 107.59 of this chapter, this part does not apply to any aircraft governed by part 107 of this chapter.”

With this note, it appears that the FAA considers all Part 91 requirements for flight operations for UAS aircraft to be exempt except those few exceptions.

*Note – Now, in an effort to ensure I wasn’t crazy, because I did research this before sending in the interpretation request, I did go back to my copy of the 2016 FARs that were in place when I wrote the originally letter in August of 2016. At that time, there was no § 91.1 (f). In the seven months this intepretation was floating around the FAA Legal Counsel offices, the regulation changed, so when they issued their interpretation it was now in place and could be referenced.

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Jason Blair is an active single and multiengine instructor and an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner with over 6,000 hours total time, over 3,000 hours of instruction given, and more than 3000 hours in aircraft as a DPE. In his role as Examiner, over 2,000 pilot certificates have been issued. He has worked for and continues to work with multiple aviation associations with the work focusing on pilot training and testing. His experience as a pilot and instructor spans nearly 20 years and includes over 100 makes and models of aircraft flown. Jason Blair has published works in many aviation publications with a focus on training and safety.


UAS (Drones) Exempt from Mode C Veil around Class B Airport? – Asked of and Answered by FAA… — 2 Comments

  1. So… does a review of all those referenced regulations mean we can operate a sUAS within the MODE C 30 NM veil without an altitude transponder nor the need to notify the ATC an hour before the sUAS flight (absent flight in any other class B airspace inside the 30 NM area)?

    • I am not personally familiar with the notification requirements exactly depending on proximity to the controlled airspace, but the interpretation does absolutely mean that a sUAS aircraft is exempt from the Mode C “veil” around Class B airports.