Oh, the delicious irony.
The Walt Disney Company has filed a petition for exemption to the FAA, so it can fly drones in the airspace over Walt Disney World (Florida) and Disneyland (California). The petition is actually for Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which is necessary for commercial operation of drones.
The ironic part of this is that Disney World and Disneyland are both covered by airspace that is designated as National Defense Airspace. The two theme parks are under permanent Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) that Disney asked Congressional legislators to mandate following the 9/11 attacks. Apparently Disney believes that its facilities are a special case that requires protection from airborne attacks; never mind that Congress didn’t think that any other theme park needed such protection, and that TFRs such as these (three-mile radius, with 3,000-foot ceilings) can’t possibly protect anything from a determined attacker.
But now Disney wants permission to fly drones called Flixels (floating pixels), essentially four-, six- or eight-bladed devices carrying color-changing light displays, inside its own TFRs. The petition acknowledges that the parks “are protected by a three-nautical mile radius no-fly zone.” But it also points out that “flights conducted for operational purposes of any Disneyland or Walt Disney World event and venue are authorized with an approved waiver (which Disney will separately seek for Flixels).”
This is a terrible idea. Why should Disney be allowed to fly drones inside its own no-fly zones, when the TFR Notam itself explicitly prohibits any flights within this apparently vital National Defense Airspace. According to the Notam for Disney World, “Any person who knowingly or willfully violates the rules pertaining to operations in this airspace may be subject to certain criminal penalties…Pilots who do not adhere to the following procedures may be intercepted, detained and interviewed by law enforcement/security personnel.”
The Notam goes on to explain that “Flights conducted for operational purposes of any Disney World event and venue are authorized with an approved waiver.” And this is the basis on which Disney is seeking the exemption to fly drones in its own TFRs.
Nevertheless, the FAA should not waive the rules for Disney, which was so desperate to get the no-fly zones erected over its parks that it was able to get Congress to write a law forcing the FAA to impose the TFRs over Disney World and Disneyland. Some speculate that Disney saw an opportunity to keep banner towers away from its parks, and certainly the TFRs have had that effect. But for Disney now to claim that it’s OK to fly within its parks—never mind that it’s just a bunch of drones—sorry, that’s just wrong.
The Disney TFRs are stupid anyway. That the FAA keeps referring to them as TFRs is the height of ridiculousness, because they are permanent, not temporary. And I will say this over and over: these TFRs (like most TFRs) cannot prevent any airborne attacks. All these TFRs do is create yet another way for pilots to get caught, prevent legitimate operations in this airspace and make Disney look hypocritical. If Disney really wants to fly drones inside National Defense Airspace, then get with Congress and have it remove the Disney World/Disneyland TFRs.