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Can You Fly a Drone at the Grand Canyon?

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The Grand Canyon is a bucket list destination for many. What you’ve always longed to do is bring your drone with you when visiting the Grand Canyon so you can capture permanent mementos of its beauty.

Is this allowed?

You are not allowed to fly a drone at the Grand Canyon per Policy Memorandum 14-05, which was passed in 2014. These rules are established through the National Park Service. Some exceptions are permitted, such as using a drone for search and rescue, law enforcement, or scientific study.

This article will explore Policy Memorandum 14-05 more deeply–including the exceptions–so you know the rules in full about flying your drone at the Grand Canyon.

Make sure you check it out before you bother bringing a drone to Arizona!

Why you’re not permitted to fly a drone at the Grand Canyon (Unpacking Policy Memorandum 14-05) #

The Grand Canyon in Arizona is considered a national park and thus is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, which is named the U.S. National Park Service in full.

Thus, this isn’t even an Arizona governing body, but a United States federal government service.

In 2014, to respond to the rise in drones and the interest in operating them around the Grand Canyon, the National Park Service created Policy Memorandum 14-05.

Per that policy and the NPS’ website, the rule is that “the use of drones is prohibited in Grand Canyon and all National Parks.”

Exceptions to Policy Memorandum 14-05 #

Like many federal laws, there do exist exceptions to Policy Memorandum 14-05, but none that apply to the average drone pilot.

Let’s take a look at when drone flight is allowed per the Conditions and Exceptions section.

The rule in full is as follows:

“1. The required compendium closures do not apply to the following activities:

  • The use, authorized in writing prior to the date of this Policy Memorandum, of model aircraft (as that term is used in Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Advisory Circular 91-57 and section 336 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2012) for hobbyist and recreational use at locations and under conditions (i) established by the superintendent in the compendium; or (ii) issued under a special use permit. Continued activities under these existing authorities are allowed, but renewals and modifications of these compendium provisions or permits must be approved in writing by the ADVRP…
  • Administrative use of unmanned aircraft as approved in writing by ADVRP for such purposes as scientific study, search and rescue operations, fire operations, and law enforcement. Administrative use includes the use of unmanned aircraft by (i) NPS personnel as operators or crew; (ii) cooperators such as government agencies and universities that conduct unmanned aircraft operations for the NPS pursuant to a written agreement; and (iii) other entities, including commercial entities, conducting unmanned aircraft operations for the NPS, provided such entities are in compliance with all applicable FAA and Department of the Interior requirements…
  • Activities conducted under a Scientific Research and Collecting Permit that specifically authorizes launching, landing, or operating an unmanned aircraft and is approved in writing by the ADVRP in consultation with the Associate Director for Natural Resource Stewardship and Science.
  • Activities conducted under a special use permit that specifically authorizes launching, landing, or operating an unmanned aircraft and is approved in writing by the ADVRP…”

But wait! Doesn’t Section 1 (a) mention that recreational pilots can fly with a permit? It does, but you see, the language mentions that a drone pilot must have a preexisting permit before Policy Memorandum 14-05 was passed.

That was on June 19th, 2014, thus making it impossible for current hobbyist pilots to obtain a written permit through the NPS and fly their drones in the Grand Canyon.

This was surely done on purpose to limit the number of drones in the sky around the Grand Canyon at any one time.

Even those who were granted a special use permit have to follow a specific set of rules:

  • “Unmanned aircraft may not disturb or harass wildlife.
  • Unmanned aircraft may not interfere with NPS search and rescue, law enforcement, or other emergency applications.
  • Unmanned aircraft will not be flown in a reckless manner or outside the designed area(s).
  • Operators may not operate unmanned aircraft while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Inexperienced unmanned aircraft operators must be accompanied and assisted by an experienced operator.
  • Operators must avoid flying directly over people, vessels, vehicles, or structures and must avoid endangering the life and property of others.
  • Operators must report all accidents involving injury (even minor first aid) and any resource or property damage to the NPS immediately. Notifications to the NPS does not relieve the operator from reporting requirements under 49 CFR 830 or under a Certificate of Authorization (COA) required by the FAA.
  • Operators must have sufficient liability insurance or proof of membership in an organization such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) which includes insurance coverage with membership.”

Further, under Exhibit A, the following rules are established:

  • “If the unmanned aircraft caused a take of wildlife (which includes pursuit or harassment) or an intentional disturbance of wildlife nesting, breeding, or other activities, the user could be cited for a violation of 36 CFR 2.2(a).
  • If the user of the unmanned aircraft knowingly or recklessly created a risk of public alarm or nuisance by causing noise that was unreasonable under the circumstances or by creating a hazardous or physically offensive condition, the user could be cited for disorderly conduct under 36 CFR 2.34.”

Violations of 36 CFR could lead to fines of up to $5,000 as well as six months behind bars and sometimes both punishments.

What happens if you disobey the National Park Service Rules and fly your drone around the Grand Canyon? #

Perhaps you weren’t aware of the rules about flying a drone around the Grand Canyon, so you did it without realizing that you could.

Now what happens?

From what we were able to find, the punishment is the same as violating the 36 CFR rules per the section above.

In other words, you could be fined at least $5,000 or face a prison sentence of six months. Both punishments are possible as well.

According to some drone pilots who have been unfortunate enough to try to slip by the NPS’ rules and fly their drones around the Grand Canyon anyway, they’ve been banned from National Parks.

Keep in mind that the Grand Canyon is one of many National Parks that the NPS oversees.

Some others that you would banned from for life include:

  • Arches National Park in Utah
  • Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming
  • Badlands National Park in South Dakota
  • Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska
  • Acadia National Park in Maine
  • Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming
  • Glacier National Park in Montana
  • Yosemite National Park in California

That list is not exhaustive by far, as there are 423 National Parks in the US alone that are altogether over 84 million acres.

Is it worth it to be banned from 84 million acres in the US just to fly your drone around the Grand Canyon? That’s up to you to decide, but we’d say no, it isn’t! Not in the slightest.

For those who think they can sneak their drones into the Grand Canyon, good luck.

Considering that drones are only allowed to fly under specific circumstances, if yours is out and about, it’s going to attract attention, and not good attention, either.

It won’t be too long before you’re caught and punished.

There aren’t any loopholes to look into, either. The National Park Service is an institution managed by the US federal government, as we said.

Even if there was some local or state law in Arizona that somehow permitted drone flight in and around the Grand Canyon (and there aren’t), it doesn’t matter.

The NPS rules supersede them all.

Conclusion #

Although flying a drone at the Grand Canyon sounds nice, it’s simply not allowed. The National Park Service, which manages all National Parks in the country, outlaws pilots from flying around the Grand Canyon unless they’re an agency pilot, doing research, or have a written permit prior to 2014.

References:Policy Memorandum 14-05 (link)


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