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Can UAVs or drones (consumer/commercial scale) operate over international waters (12 miles out from the shore) without being regulated by the FAA?

Just wondering if companies can do things like BVLOS* testing out in international waters if they wanted to, instead of getting exemptions or leasing private airspace.

And, this is meant to be living and residing in the US, and operating outside of US' waters.

* Beyond Visual Line Of Sight

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    $\begingroup$ At sea you'd have to fly your drone over the horizon to get it out of sight - at least 3 miles - and then there are no obstructions around which you can fly. Not a great test, I think. $\endgroup$ – CatchAsCatchCan Apr 17 '20 at 21:36
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    $\begingroup$ I’m voting to close this question because this is a legal question and belongs on Law.SE. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Apr 17 '20 at 21:36
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    $\begingroup$ @Ron I disagree. There are many questions here about the legalities of aviation-related activities $\endgroup$ – CatchAsCatchCan Apr 17 '20 at 21:38
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    $\begingroup$ Also, you'd have to take-off and land outside the ADIZ zone surrounding the US, otherwise you'd need a DVFR as well (although filling out APIS would be interesting). $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Apr 17 '20 at 21:38
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    $\begingroup$ This might be a question to post to the new Drones and Model Aircraft, still in private beta. $\endgroup$ – CatchAsCatchCan Apr 17 '20 at 21:40
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Short answer: the FAA's UAV regulations probably stop applying at 3 nautical miles, but this is more about maritime law than aviation regulations and you might get a better answer on law.SE.


The FAA's UAV regulations do state where they apply. 14 CFR 107.1(a) (emphasis mine):

Except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section, this part applies to the registration, airman certification, and operation of civil small unmanned aircraft systems within the United States

14 CFR 1.1:

United States, in a geographical sense, means (1) the States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the possessions, including the territorial waters, and (2) the airspace of those areas

Defining different types of marine jurisdiction is apparently so complicated that it requires a diagram (33 CFR 2.1), and the definition of "territorial sea" is in 33 CFR 2.22. Unfortunately, there are two possible definitions: 12 nautical miles or 3 nautical miles from shore. My reading of it is that for treaties, criminal law and other 'big stuff', the waters extend 12 miles. For more general purposes, it's 3 miles per 2.22(a)(2):

Unless otherwise specified in paragraph (a)(1) of this section, territorial sea means the waters, 3 nautical miles wide, adjacent to the coast of the United States and seaward of the territorial sea baseline.

Having said all that, I don't know for sure what the definition of "US territorial waters" really is. The 3NM distance seems very likely (to me) for part 107, and you might get a better answer on law.SE.

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  • $\begingroup$ Not only that, USA has warning areas beyond the territorial waters, and they are non-regulatory (they can't be claimed through legislation!), but buzz a Navy exercise there and chances are you'll be shot down :D $\endgroup$ – ymb1 Apr 18 '20 at 12:40

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