The Current Take on Drone Regulations

No matter what your level of drone pilot experience, there are drone regulations to ensure flying safely in the national airspace. Drones are unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), and drone pilots must comply with the Federal Aviation Regulation.

What about toy drones you buy your kids for Christmas or as a birthday gift? Must they also follow these regulations? What about drone flying laws and license requirements? First, you must access what type of drone flyer you are to access which regulations apply.  

Type of Drone Flyer

Do you fly the drone for recreational or for commercial use? The regulations differ. The FAA divides drone flyers into four groups.

Recreational Flyers and Modeler Community-based Organizations

If you or your kids are flying drones for fun or as an entertaining hobby, then it is for recreational use. Recreational drone toys weigh less than 55 pounds, and their drone toys may even way under 0.55 pounds for young kids.

Certified Remote Pilots including Commercial Operators

If you are flying the drone for work or your business and weighs less than 55 pounds, then the pilot must adhere to Part 107 rules.

Public Safety and Government Users

Law Enforcement fly drones as a tool in protecting and serving the public. They have rules and regulations to follow when flying the drones. They also protect the public from people flying drones in unauthorized zones and unsafe manner.

Educational Users

Educators who use drones flying as part of their curriculum have regulations they must adhere to. These rules and drone regulations depend on the reason for flying the drones.

Regulations for Recreational Drone Flying

Registration of the Drone

Even a drone you fly for fun needs to be registered. The law was passed on January 3, 2018, obligating recreational flyers to register their drones.

  • Drones that weigh less than 0.55 pounds do not require registration.
  • Drone weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds must be registered with the FAA. Online registration is available at the FAADroneZone website.
  • Drones that weigh more than 55 pounds are deemed a traditional aircraft and not for recreational use.

Register the drone on the FAADroneZone website (#1 link). Remember to carry proof of registration with you and to label the drone with its registration number.

Flying the Drone

  • If you bought a drone to fly as a hobby or for fun, you may use it for recreational purposes and not for commercial use.
  • Fly the drone with visual line-of-sight. You must be able to see the drone while flying; it must not fly where you cannot see it.
  • If you fly the drone at night, it must have lighting so that you know where it is always and for more natural orientation while flying the drone.
  • Fly the drone under 400 feet above ground in uncontrolled airspace, also called Class G.

Always follow community-based safety guidelines. Fly within the regulations or guidelines of the nationwide community-based organization (CBO).

Do NOT Fly Here

  • Never fly the drone close to any other aircraft.
  • Never fly a drone near emergency response efforts.
  • Never fly in controlled airspace zones without airspace authorization.
  • Never fly over a person or a vehicle.
  • Never fly the drone if you are under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or over-the-counter medication that influences your ability to control the drone safely.
  • Never fly carelessly that may cause you to lose control of the drone.

Adhering to the regulations is vital, even when flying for fun. Pilots who fly recklessly or intentionally violate the rules and regulations could be liable for civil and criminal penalties.

Zones to Fly in for Fun

  • Class G airspace is the zone you can fly your drone for fun. Class G is uncontrolled airspace where the FAA does not control manned air traffic.
  • Class B, C, D, and E have controlled airspace, and you must apply for airspace authorization to fly in these zones. You can apply for approval with LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability), the DroneZone website where you registered the drone, or send an email to UAShelp@faa.gov for more information about fixed flying sites.

Most drone mobile apps do assist in having guidelines that show hobby pilots the height and airspace zones where they can fly their drone.  

Regulations for Commercial Drone Flying

The following guidelines apply if you have a small drone weighing less than 55 pounds that you fly for work.

Registration for Work Drone

  • The drone must be registered with the FAA at the DroneZone website.
  • To fly the drone commercially, the pilot must have a Remote Pilot Certificate issued by the FAA. Requirements for application include being 16 years or older, in good mental and physical condition to safely fly a UAS, the ability to read, write, and speak English.
  • The 55 pounds weight limit of the drone includes the cargo at takeoff.

Flying Zones that Apply

  • Commercial flying is also restricted to Class G zone airspace like recreational flying.
  • If you need to fly in controlled airspace (Class B, C, D, and E), you must apply for authorization with LAANC or at the DroneZone website.   

Flying the Drone for Work

  • Fly at or under 400 feet above the ground.
  • Fly at or under 100 mph.
  • Keep the drone in visual line-of-sight.
  • Crewed aircraft have right of way.
  • No flying directly over people.
  • No flying a drone from a moving vehicle in a populated area.

When you need to operate the drone contrary to the rules set out in Part 107, you can apply for a Part 107 Waiver for that specific rule. For example, A Daylight Operations waiver allows you to fly at night, and a Visual Observer waiver allows exceptions from all observer visual requirements.

State Regulations

The federal laws and regulations are not the only regulations a drone pilot should obey. Many states have separate rules and regulations for drones flying. Make sure you know what your state’s laws are and that you comply with these regulations too.  

Business Insider has an article listing the list of states and where to find the appropriate drone flying regulations.

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