CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — Drone usage has surged in the past few years with law enforcement expanding the use for search and rescue and private use becoming more common.
Although in most of West Virginia, people can fly their drones relatively unrestricted, there are some places and situations that require certain clearances to fly and others that outright ban the use of drones.
Places you can’t fly a drone
The Federal Aviation Administration recognizes “no drone zones” where flying drones is illegal. The B4UFLY app shows places that require authorization to fly as well as places where drone flight is restricted.
West Virginia has several areas with “restricted operations,” in other words, don’t fly a drone there. These include protected wildlife areas and private government and military areas.
Restricted Wildlife Areas
- New River Gorge National Park & Preserve, including the New River from Ansted to Hinton
- Part of Otter Creek Wildlife Management Area in Randolph and Tucker counties
- Part of Beaver Dam Wildlife Management Area in the Monongahela National Forest
- Part of the Potomac Wildlife Management Area near Mount Porte Crayon
- Dolly Sods Wilderness
- Part of the Cranberry Wildlife Management Area in Nicholas County
- The Calvin Price State Forest in Pocahontas County
- Wilderness area south of Anthony Creek in Greenbrier County
- Bluestone National Scenic River
- Gauley River National Recreation Area
According to the West Virginia State Code, anyone who wants to operate a drone in a State Park, Forest or Rail Trail must register with the area’s superintendent’s office before operating. And the operation will only be allowed to 1. protect the safety and privacy of other park users, 2. protect area facilities, 3. protect the peaceful and quiet atmosphere of the area, or 4. prevent harassment of wildlife.
Restricted Government Areas
- United States Penitentiary Hazelton in Preston County (Department of Justice)
- Federal Corrections Instruction Morgantown (Department of Justice)
- Camp Dawson in Preston County (Army Airfield)
- FBI Biometric Technology Center in Clarksburg (Department of Defense)
- Federal Corrections Institution Gilmer (Department of Justice)
- Federal Corrections Institution McDowell (Department of Justice)
- Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park
- Harpers Ferry National Historic Park
- Martinsburg Airport; 167th Airlift Wing Airforce Base (Department of Defense)
All of the above no fly zones are marked in red on the FAA’s B4YFLY app.
Areas around airports are generally considered “controlled airspace,” meaning that authorization is needed to fly a drone or flying is only allowed at low altitudes. These include the Bridgeport, Morgantown and Elkins airports in north central West Virginia. The controlled air spaces span for a five-mile stretch in each direction from each airport and are marked in blue, green and pink on the B4UFLY app. Some larger airports may have larger airspace, but for most West Virginia airports, the rule is five miles. The West Virginia airports that have controlled airspace, according to B4UFly are:
The above locations are based on what was listed on B4UFLY at the time of publication; for up-to-date maps on where not to fly, download the app.
You also cannot fly a drone over an active wildfire or forest fire, according to a recent Facebook post from the West Virginia Emergency Management Division. Even a small drone can be detrimental to low-level aircraft flights that often happen during wildfire response. To see a map of active wildfires and prescribed burns in the U.S., click here.
Situations you can’t fly a drone
West Virginia State Code gives a list of situations when intentions for which an “unmanned aircraft” or drone cannot be used or flown. One of them to take pictures of someone or their private property without their permission. Similarly, you cannot use one to contact or view a person on private property without their permission; this could include looking at someone through a window, following them, etc.
You cannot use drones to commit crimes, such as harassing another person, violating a restraining order or interfering with official duties of law enforcement or medical personnel; any person who does is guilty of a misdemeanor.
You also cannot fly a drone that is equipped with any type of deadly weapon—unless in an official military capacity—or attempt to use a drone to damage or interfere with a manned aircraft or place; violators of these crimes are guilty of a felony.