The Rules, Regulations and Laws to Know Before (Or After) You Buy a DroneMay 7, 2018
So, you went ahead and (finally) bought a drone of your own…
First off, congratulations; and welcome to the wide, wonderful world of Unmanned Aircraft! It’s only a matter of time before your deftly avoiding flying Amazon deliveries and Airbus eVTOLs like a pro.
However, just as important as deciding what type of quadcopter to purchase/which aviators to sport while piloting your new UAS is understanding the litany of rules and regulations — both federal and state — that govern its use.
Unfortunately, there isn’t one, definitive place where one can turn to with the entirety of drone law laid out in sequential order, as certain codifications only apply to commercial or foreign aircraft operations, not to mention variances between different states/counties/cities. But, for the most part, here’s what you need to know before your inaugural ascent…
Choose Your Destiny
The FAA’s ultimate goal is to fully integrate Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) into what is known as the National Airspace System (NAS), with unmanned aircraft ideally operating in harmony, and in the same airspace, as manned aircraft, using the same type of air traffic management systems and procedures already in place.
That being said, there are currently two different ways for recreational or hobby UAS fliers to operate in the NAS in accordance with the various laws and regulations: by flying under either Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (meant for Model Aircraft), or Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (meant for Small UAS).
The majority of you reading this will most likely fall under Section 336, which dictates the rules for hobby and recreation use of an aircraft 55 lbs. or less; though if you plan on flying for pay (or any other form of compensation), then click here to learn more about getting your Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA. There isn’t any practical training required, but there is an initial aeronautical knowledge test involved, as well as an FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application (known as IACRA) that you’ll need to fill out.
* Part 61 pilot certificate holders who have completed a flight review within the past 24 months may elect to take an online training course focusing on UAS-specific areas of knowledge instead of the aeronautical knowledge test.
Register Your Drone
Drones have really taken off (badum chh) in popularity over the past few years, and are now being utilized in everything from military operations, to aerial inspections, to delivery and shipping, to photography. As such, proper registration is more important than ever.
The FAA even went so far as to recently charter the “Unmanned Aircraft Systems Identification and Tracking Aviation Rulemaking Committee” composed of members representing aviation community and industry member organizations, law enforcement agencies, public safety organizations, manufacturers, and researchers to provide recommendations regarding various technologies available for remote identification and tracking of UAS. “One of the first things we’re looking at, and hopefully get done this year, is some kind of rule-making on ID,” Carl Burleson, the acting deputy administrator at the regulatory body, told attendees of the Singapore Airshow back in February.
In the meantime though, registering your UAS will only cost you a measly $5, and the FAA’s new Drone Zone mini-site has made the process simpler than ever…
* Remember: You’re actually registering yourself as the pilot and owner of your drone; not the drone itself. Once you complete the process, you’ll receive an identification number that can either be affixed to your drone (via a piece of paper) or written in its battery compartment. That single ID number is good for any and all the drones you fly.
Keep It 400 (or Below)
Section 336 of the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act mentioned above says that drones must be operated below 400 feet above ground level (121.92 meters, for our international readers). Higher than that, and UAS start to interfere with national airspace.
Most higher-end consumer drones already come equipped with GPS radios, so they know where the ground is, and automatically limit your elevation from the ground. However, there is a workaround for you stubborn acrophiles out there: as long as you are within 400 feet of a structure (e.g. radio towers, skyscrapers, etc.), you can fly up to 400 feet above the structure.
Hold the Line of Sight
Not to sound like your little league baseball coach, but it’s vitally important to always keep an eye on your drone…
Stay Away From…
Obviously, if you are within the immediate airspace of an airport, you can’t fly your UAS; and if you are within a 5-mile range of a controlled airstrip, you’re required to contact the air traffic controller to inform them of your intent to fly. But there are a catalogue of other areas you need to make sure to avoid flying over.
This includes: a three-mile radius of any stadium or venue where a major sporting event (i.e. MLB, NFL, NCAA D1 Football, NASCAR) is taking place, starting one hour before and ending one hour after the scheduled time of the event; emergency situations, like forest fires or medical evacuations; and other people, who, in general, don’t appreciate being buzzed like the air control towers in Top Gun…
When in doubt, consult the FAA’s dedicated safety app, B4UFLY:
It provides real-time information about airspace restrictions, as well as any other flying requirements based on your current GPS location.
Avoid Indecent Exposure
While the various laws around recreational and commercial drone use continue to be a swirling, evolving gumbo of rules and regulations, the laws around camera/photography use are written in granite. And if your drone has a camera, it is, legally speaking, a camera.
Follow all federal, state, and city privacy laws.
Boozing = Losing
You may know that to drive a car, your blood alcohol level has to be below 0.08%. But did you know that to operate any kind of aircraft — whether it’s a Cessna 172 or a Phantom 4 — your BAC has to be below 0.04%?
So, put that second beer down, and keep your hands at 10 and 2 (on the transmitter).
To learn more about how Aircraft Services Group can help serve your private aviation needs — whether it be charter, jet sales, helicopter sales or a custom ownership plan — feel free to reach out to us at via the contact form at the bottom of this page.
Until then, safe travels!