So you might have just bought a drone, and now you’re wondering: what am I supposed to do now? Bad news, there are about 10,000 articles on the internet talking about drone regulations and rules, and they pretty much all say something different. The good news is that I’m putting together this guide for you to understand the drone laws.
Before I get into it, figure out what you will use your drone for: Professional work, or Hobbyist Filming/Just for fun.
Hobbyist or Just For Fun
Alright, if you’re just going to be using your drone for fun, you’ll need to do just a couple things. First, check if your drone is over .55 pounds. If you’re under .55 lb, you don’t need to register! All you need to do is follow the list of drone regulations below, and you’re good to go.
If you’re over .55 lb, you need to register your drone at the linked website. It costs 5 dollars to register, and after that you’re good for 3 years. Make sure to put your registration number somewhere on your drone, so that you always have it there. Another note: On the website, it will say “Fly sUAS under Part 107”, and also “Fly Model Aircraft under Section 336”. If you’re just flying for fun, register under the Model Aircraft one (I don’t know if it really matters which one, but I’d recommend the model aircraft one).
At the time of writing, it’s actually really unclear whether you need to register or not; I’ve read several different articles saying different things. In my opinion, ‘better safe than sorry’, so you should register anyway.
Once you’re registered, you have a few rules, which I’ll copy from the FAA website.
- Fly for hobby or recreation ONLY
- Fly within visual line-of-sight
- Follow community-based safety guidelines and fly within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization
- Fly a drone under 55 lbs. unless certified by a community-based organization
- Never fly near other aircraft
- Notify the airport and air traffic control tower prior to flying within 5 miles of an airport*
- Never fly near emergency response efforts
I put in bold the most important parts. By flying for hobby or recreation only, it means you can’t sell your videos or get hired to film with your drone. And keep in mind that you have to keep it in your sights! I’ll talk later about if you want to fly it far away; you need a special license.
Alright I think that’s about it! Now onto the Professional rules.
Professional or Advanced Flying
So if you’re flying professionally, or someone wants to hire you to film for them, it’s a little more complicated. You’ll need to register your drone as a Small sUAS (unmanned aerial system) under Part 107 as explained above.
You’ll also need a Pilot’s license (no, don’t worry, not an actual pilot’s license). It’s actually called “Remote Pilot Certification”, and it will enable you to fly professionally, to my understanding. You need to be at least 16 years old, and you need to take a test at an FAA approved place. Also, you need to have a TSA screening. The Certification is then valid for two years, when you probably have to renew it, or take a refresher test.
I’m not sure of all the details, but here is the page with all the remote pilot certification information. Of course, you’ll need to do some studying for the test, and Drone Pilot Ground School is the best place I know of to do that.
After you have your registration and license, there are still some restrictions on flight:
- Unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 55 pounds, including payload, at takeoff
- Fly in Class G airspace*
- Keep the unmanned aircraft within visual line-of-sight*
- Fly at or below 400 feet*
- Fly during daylight or civil twilight*
- Fly at or under 100 mph*
- Yield right of way to manned aircraft*
- Do not fly directly over people*
- Do not fly from a moving vehicle, unless in a sparsely populated area*
The ones with an asterisk (*) next to them are subject to waiver, meaning you can apply to get a waiver, basically exempting you from them. For example, flying within visual sight might be a pain, especially if the place you want to film is far away. All you need to do is fill out an application, and the FAA will review your request, and decide if they will exempt you.
That’s about it as far as drone regulations go; now get out there and start flying! Haven’t bought a drone yet? Check out our 10 Tips for Buying a drone.