Written by Greg Barnes
Looking at an airspace map can be pretty intimidating the first time. I mean, our airspace map looks SOOOO colorful, resembling any early ‘90s Lisa Frank school backpack, or perhaps more accurately, unicorn vomit. It’s so confusing, that two drone pilots recently got federal citations for flying up at Ritidian — a no-drone zone. This made the news and caused a big stir among local drone pilots. A local newspaper even interviewed me and Dong to talk about this, and to discuss which parts of Guam are available to fly or off-limits to drones. This got us thinking: We should definitely make a video about this… so we did! If you haven’t seen this video, watch it now, before going on to the rest of this post.
A few quick points to recap the video:
Aloft is a great resource for every drone pilot. It is, in my opinion, the best mobile app for checking airspace on the go and getting LAANC authorization.
Any white area is Class G uncontrolled airspace, where you can just go right up and fly without needing authorization! (In this blog, you’ll learn about why some of that Class G airspace appears red, and how to tell the difference.)
In the Class D airspace surrounding Guam International Airport, LAANC authorization is available in numbered (non-zero) grid zones.
In the Class D airspace surrounding Andersen Airport, LAANC is not available, so if you want authorization, you’ll have to get it through the FAADroneZone website.
Even if the FAA does grant you authorization to fly in those numbered grids, you’re still not allowed to fly into the boundaries of Andersen Air Force Base itself.
Oddly-shaped red zones with a dark outline are National Parks, off-limits to drones. (In this article, I’ll get a little deeper into this.)
Oddly-shaped red zones with no outline are National Security UAS Flight Restrictions, also off-limits to drones.
Ritidian itself is covered by a TFR that begins at the surface, so that too is off-limits to drones.
Always fly with your license: The TRUST Certification for recreational pilots, and the Part 107 for commercial pilots.
So now you know where you’re allowed and not allowed to fly. And in areas where you need authorization to fly, now you know where to get it! In this article, I want to go a bit deeper into Guam’s airspace and also mention a few things that didn’t make the final cut of the video.
Before you read further, I highly recommend that you download Aloft in case you don’t already have it on your phone. Aloft is a free download on your Android or Apple phone, and once you sign up for a free account, you can check the entire national airspace and even get LAANC authorization, as we showed in the video. If you have Aloft, you can follow along with me in this blog whenever you see this icon: 📲
One of the things I want to get into a bit more detail on is the National Parks. In the video, for time, I say we’re not allowed to fly there. That is true: Drones are prohibited in most National Parks nationwide, with few exceptions. In Guam, the parks are also prohibited.
📲 Open Aloft on your phone, tap Maps, and zoom into the western edge of the large blue circle (Guam International Airport’s Class D airspace). You’ll see a few red zones with a dark outline. Tap inside any of those areas, and you’ll see that they’re all parts of the War in the Pacific National Park. Once again, you’re not allowed to fly in any of these areas.
HOWEVER, here’s the rub: Lots of drone operators say that the actual rule is that you’re not allowed to be launching, operating, or landing from within the park itself. Those drone operators will tell you that the loophole is to stand outside of the National Park while you launch your drone and just fly it into the park, bringing it back to you to land. Years ago, even though I knew the rule, I called the National Park to ask whether I could fly there, and they even told me that I could do it as
long as I launched, operated it, and landed outside the park.
Just a few months ago, my company was hired by a National Park for photography services. They needed overlapping photos and overall wide shots. We knew that a drone would be perfect for that, and we told them so. But they told us that drones were not allowed. I mentioned that loophole, and they acknowledged that they knew about it. But even though they were paying us for photography, they said that flying drones in the National Parks isn’t allowed, and they had us do only ground-based photography.
That’s why in the video, to avoid confusion, I said you can’t fly in National Parks. I figure that if they don’t let us take drone photos even when they’re paying us for photography, then flying there should be considered off-limits.
NATIONAL SECURITY UAS FLIGHT RESTRICTONS (NSUFR)
Those small red zones all over the Guam map (the ones with no outline), I want to talk a little bit more about these than I did in the video.
📲 Open Aloft on your phone, tap Maps, and zoom into any of the oddly-shaped red areas with no dark outline. Tap in any of those areas. They are specifically listed as “DOD NSUFR.” This stands for Department of Defense, National Security UAS Flight Restriction. As you might imagine, these are areas where low-flying aircraft are considered a risk to national security. Don’t fly there.
This short faa.fov page will give you a link to the global map where all of the NSUFR areas are highlighted. But this link will bring you to that same map, zoomed directly in to Guam. If you compare the zones on this map to the airspace map found in Aloft, you’ll see that the information is exactly the same, meaning that Aloft is an accurate source of information for National Security UAS Flight Restrictions.
THE BIG HALF-MOON TFR
That large red half-moon shape covering the northern part of the island (and going way out into the sea) is a TFR, or Temporary Flight Restriction. It looks like a huge, bloody, partially-eaten cookie floating in the air — no doubt consumed by a unicorn which had just lost a boxing match with a centaur and then shat out what eventually turned into Guam’s airspace map.
If you visit Skyvector (direct link to map of Guam), you’ll see the TFR, but it doesn’t affect most drones because it starts at about a half mile high. This will not affect any drone operations other apart from high-flying fixed wing drone operations. But for most recreational and Part 107 operations, this TFR will not have any effect.
Within Aloft, this TFR turns the whole area red, but do not confuse that with the NSUFRs we just looked at. Here’s a screenshot of Aloft, looking at the area in-between the PGUM and PGUA Class D airspace. You’ll see that most of the area is a very light red (that’s the TFR), but some areas are darker red (those are NSUFRs). You can fly in those very light red areas, sin
📲 Open Aloft on your phone, tap Maps, and zoom way out so that you can see the whole island. Now, see that there is some space in-between the two Class D airspace areas surrounding PGUM (Guam International) and PGUA (Andersen) Airports. Zoom into the area in the middle of those zones. You’ll see the bottom part of the TFR, appearing as a very light red. You CAN FLY in this area, since this TFR does not begin until nearly a half mile high. This is Class G uncontrolled airspace. But you’ll also see, underneath that TFR, some areas in darker red (those are NSUFRs). You’re not allowed to fly in those areas. Just make sure these different shades of
red don’t confuse the living s*** out of you (reminds me of that unicorn again) like they confused me when I first began flying. After spending a little time in Aloft, you’ll quickly learn to tell the difference.
Just a little bit more about this TFR: it exists for “Special Security Reasons,” and it is renewed weekly. So, for all intents and purposes, this 😒 “temporary“ isn’t so temporary after all. Last week, it was known as FDC NOTAM 2/3147. (An “FDC NOTAM” is a “Federal Data Center Notice To Airmen.”) At the time of this writing, it’s known as FDC NOTAM 2/6640. See how those numbers changed? If you go to those webpages, they are exactly the same, word-for-word, except for the dates. 2/3147 was for last week, and 2/6640 is for this week. Expect it to renew again next week and the week after and the week after and the… well, you get the point.
THE BIG RED OUTLINE 12 MILES OUT
📲 Open Aloft on your phone, tap Maps, and zoom WAAAY OUT until you can see the entirety of Guam and much of the water surrounding it. You’ll see a red outline that surrounds Guam 12 nm (nautical miles) out. Zoom further out and you’ll see that there is a similar outline that surrounds every island of CNMI. Zoom EVEN FURTHER OUT and you’ll see that a similar outline surrounds even the mainland United States! For now, come back to Guam, zoom into that line, and tap inside it. Aloft will tell you that it’s about “territorial waters” and about “approaching military vessels.” Yes, that is true, but what exactly is it, and how can we get more info on it?
Well, the FAA ARCGIS maps (direct link to Guam) have more info on it. Zoom into and click that same outline, which appears purple on this page. You will see that this is FDC 0/0852 — another Federal Data Center Notice To Airmen. There’s no link there either, but I have the link to FDC 0/0852 for you right here. That big outline around Guam is not just for Guam — it’s for the entirety of the United States and the waters from the shore to 12 nm out. This NOTAM is to tell us that we are not allowed to fly within 3,000 lateral feet (horizontally) or within 1,000 feet vertically of any United States Navy vessel. That’s basically what this thing is — a reminder not to come too close to any military ship.
So that’s it! If you the simple information found in our 5-minute video and combine it with the more advanced information on this blog post, you’ll know almost everything there is to know about Guam’s airspace! As always, Guam, have fun, and fly safe.
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