Drone Flying Rules: Brush up on drone laws in the U.S.

Drones are becoming increasingly popular in 2020, but with their rise comes a load of amplified risks, dangers, and rules. The small flying aircrafts can be used for recreational or commercial use and although one wouldn’t think they need to be regulated, Drones can cause quite a bit of chaos. They’re even used by the military in some regions thanks to their ability to maneuver and fly completely unmanned.

Whether you’re a real estate agent looking to take aerial photos of potential neighborhoods or a YouTuber who wants some great footage to add to your channel, Drones are arguably one of the greatest aerial feats since the Wright brothers first took flight. But, there is a lot of safety and privacy concerns with these machines and so, they are regulated.

Understanding the Regulations

Before we begin, each state may have its own laws and regulations regarding this type of aircraft. In addition to the varying laws by state, users must also consider that the regulations differ for what equipment you’re using and how you’re using it. For example, it may be perfectly fine to fly your drone around your neighborhood, but, but a camera on it and sell the footage; you’re in an entirely different ballpark with laws and regulations.

Essentially, there are two main types of regulations on flying drones in the U.S. The first is flying as a hobby and the second is flying commercially. Both of these are regulated by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and carry penalties that vary.

Getting Your Certifications

For anyone to fly a drone lawfully in the U.S. for profit, they must first become certified to do so. Those who only want to fly for recreational purposes must now pass a UAS (unmanned aircraft system) Aeronautical Knowledge and Safety Test. Implemented in 2018, the exam ensures that those who are flying drones understand the safety requirements of such an activity.

To get your certifications visit the FAA website to begin. The certification process takes applicants through three separate stages:

  • Understanding the rules of unmanned aircraft flight
  • Passing the knowledge test
  • Registering your drone

For anyone who isn’t sure where to start, the FAA has a helpful tool to help pilots identify their specific requirements. Anyone who wants to become certified can who meets the following criteria:

  • Be at least 16 years old
  • Have the ability to speak, read, and write in English
  • Be healthy enough to operate the UAS safely
  • Pass the exam mentioned above

It’s also important to understand that the FAA has three separate classifications for unmanned aircraft as follows:

  • Actively-Tethered UAS – These are drones under 4.4lbs and are tied to the ground during flight.
  • Small UAS – These are not tied to the ground and weigh between 0.55lbs and 55lbs.
  • UAS – The aircraft weighs more than 55lbs, is not tethered, and is heavily regulated.

Depending on the classification of your UAS you may have to get different certifications as well as abide by certain regulations.

Rules for Recreational Flight

Fortunately, if you have a small UAS and your only objective is to have fun with your drone, you won’t need a license. There are some regulations that you must abide by for recreational flight.

  • Small UAS drones must be registered with the FAA.
  • The use of the craft is for recreational use only.
  • The craft must be within the pilot’s sight at all times
  • Receive permission from any airports within a 5-mile radius
  • Must stay within Class G airspace which is typically 400-foot

These regulations are pretty standard but there’s still a lot more to know before flying your drone for fun.

There are two types of airspace; controlled and uncontrolled airspace. The former is typically restricted as it is controlled by air traffic controllers. Non-commercial drones are only permitted to fly (regardless of elevation) in uncontrolled airspace. Check on your local aviation regulations to ensure that you won’t suffer fines or imprisonment for unlawful use of your drone.

Rules for Commercial Flight

Drones are an excellent source of income for many industries. Whether you’re using the device to capture video or take snapshots, there’s a lot of opportunities if you’re willing to get the UAS, get the certifications, and learn to fly.

Common regulations include:

  • Your drone must weigh less than 55lbs (including any packages or equipment it is carrying)
  • The aircraft must be registered with the FAA
  • You can only fly in Class G airspace under 400 ft altitude
  • You can fly your aircraft as long as it is within your sight, this includes the use of binoculars
  • Must have lights to fly at night
  • Your drone must maintain a speed of less than 100 miles per hour
  • Do not fly your aircraft over people or into the airspace of another craft

Again, these are pretty general regulations for drones so check on your local aviation laws and regulations before launching. Commercial flights may be awarded the opportunity to enter controlled airspace with permission from the airport.

No-Fly Zones

Regardless of your licensure, education, flight hours, and anything else you can think of there are several places you can never, ever, under any circumstances fly your drone. Don’t go into the following airspace:

  • Stadiums and any sporting events
  • Airports – Don’t fly your drone at airports (unless you’ve received FAA authorization to do so). Better yet, don’t fly your drone near airports.
  • Sensitive areas such as military bases and government buildings – Not a good idea to let your drone visit Area 51.
  • Restricted airspace – there are maps on the FAA website.
  • Washington D.C. – You can’t fly a drone in the nation’s capital.

Consequences of Flying Without Certifications

Violating the rules of flight can have serious and damaging consequences and therefore, there are harsh penalties for those who violate these regulations. Although the penalties vary depending on the violation, you could receive a fine anywhere from $27,500 to $250,000.

If your drone stunt was severe enough, you could end up serving a three-year sentence in federal prison.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does the certification cost?

A remote pilot license costs $150 to take the test. Assuming you’ve passed, your license is valid for 2 years at which time you would need to renew the license. Registering a Small UAS will run you $5 for three years.

What should I do if I crash my drone?

If your drone crashes and causes more than $500 in damage to a structure (something other than the drone itself) it should be reported to the FAA. The same goes for reporting the drone to the FAA if it is lost or stolen.

I only want to fly my drone on my property, do I still need to register it?

Yes, although you own the land, you don’t own and control the airspace therefore you still need to register the drone. The only exception to this is if you’re flying your drone in an enclosed space.

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