How can I fly a drone in a National Park?
How can I fly a drone in a National Park?

Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about flying in U.S. National Parks. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.

Hi Drone Girl,

I had a quick question about shooting in certain areas of SF. I am trying to get some footage in the Presidio and will be renting a drone to shoot it. I noticed on some drone maps that the Presidio is off limits. Is there a workaround for shooting legally there? Is a permit necessary?

-Andy

Hey Andy,

Great question! It’s complicated. To our non-San Franciscan readers, I’ll let you know that Presidio would be the most beautiful place to photography with a drone.

But unfortunately, the short answer is no, you cannot shoot in the Presidio with a drone.

The National Park Service in August 2014 made it illegal to launch, land, or operate unmanned aircraft under 36 CFR 1.5, which essentially gives the National Park Service the authority to impose public use limits such as hours of operations or not walking off the path.

(I started looking into this when I learned you could not fly drones over the Golden Gate Bridge.)

Before every flight, I recommend checking in your flight location on AirMap. It’s a useful and free tool to see if you are flying too close to an airport (5 miles is actually broader than most people think!), or in otherwise restricted areas such as a National Park — because a lot of people don’t realize the Presidio is a National Park).

You’ll see that the Presidio, where you want to fly, is prohibited.

airmap presidio
Screenshot from AirMap

However, there is a chance you can still fly your drone there. Purposes such as scientific study, search and rescue operations, fire operations, and law enforcement can operate under written permission from National Park Service administration.

No matter what National Park you want to fly in, contact that park’s specific management team well in advance and explain what you need to do. It would help if you can prove your case and professionalism. Ideally you would have a Part 107 certification from the Federal Aviation Administration to prove you are a licensed drone pilot. If you don’t, get it first!

You might also want to provide documentation of the safety of your equipment, as well as the details of your flight including time of day, etc. More information is better!

If you do get permission from the park management team, make sure you have it signed and in writing. Have it with you on the day of your shoot, as well as your Part 107 license, in case someone questions you.

And above all, happy flying!

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About the Author: Nana Gastaldi