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Before You Fly That Drone in the US

As always there are things to do before you fly that drone. Ensuring your drone’s battery is charged and checking the propellers are securely fastened are important. But, checking that you are allowed to fly that drone with a camera (or any drone) in the area you’ve chosen and that you have the right approvals is a must.

Check if you can do this. Hovering drone taking pictures of man running on a path in old green forest.
Disclosure: The info provided here is not meant to replace the official guidelines of the FAA. It’s purpose is to introduce you to the rules of flying a drone in the US.

USA Drone Regulations

The following has been updated to reflect changes as at May 2019.

It refers to the safety regulations for flying drones in the US (please refer to the Information Sources in case of updates). It is worth noting that no globally-recognized standards for flying drones are in place at the time of this writing. But this may change as privacy issues and concerns about the use of cameras with drones come to light.

A drone is termed an unmanned aircraft system (UAS), which is an aircraft without a human pilot onboard, being controlled remotely by an operator.

If you are flying a drone in the United States you need to understand and abide by certain rules (e.g. Part 107). You should also know that regulations around recreational, educational, government, and commercial use can differ.

If you are unsure which category you fall under, use the FAA’s User Identification Tool.

Common Requirements

In all cases, when operating a drone in the USA:

  • It must be in line of sight of the pilot at all times
  • It must give way to manned aircraft
  • Must weigh less than 55 lb (~ 25 kg)
  • Needs to be registered with the FAA and labelled, if it weighs over 0.55 lb (~ 0.25 kg)

Certificated Remote Pilots (Commercial) Use of Drone

You can fly a drone for work, business, or other non-recreational reasons under certain provisions.

For starters, the pilot must have an FAA remote pilot airman certificate, be at least 16 years old, and must pass Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) vetting. There is a knowledge test with prep materials for the test available online at the FAA.

So, make sure you know the rules under Part 107. Realize there are some waivers allowed in certain sections.

Before you fly you must register your drone and label it with your registration number. Registration is not expensive. It costs about $5 for 3 years. You can easily do this online at the FAADroneZone.

About the Remote Piloting of a Drone

In terms of the drone itself, it must not weigh more than 55 lb (25 kg). In addition, it must undergo a pre-flight check for safe operating conditions.

About the Location

The locations for certificated remote pilot use includes Class G airspace, which “includes all airspace below 14,500 feet (4,400 m) MSL not otherwise classified as controlled.”

When operating, apart from the common requirements of drones (listed above), the drone must remain under 400 feet (122 m), fly only in the daytime, at or below 100 mph (160 km/h). You must not fly it over humans nor from a moving vehicle.

Full details are given in the operational requirements (PDF) from Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulation (14 CFR) Part 107.

Non-citizen Use of Drone for Commercial Reasons

If you are a non-citizen and flying a drone, the Small UAS rule (Part 107) applies. You need to get a Remote Pilot Certificate (RPC) issued by the FAA. Any certificate or equivalent from another country is not recognized.  More information is available from the US Department of Transportation.

Recreational Use of Drone

If you are looking to buy a drone for your kid or use one yourself for fun, check the size. The regulations are somewhat laxer for drones under 0.55 lb (0.25 kg).

If you have a drone over that limit (0.55 lb) you need to register and label your drone before you fly it. You also need to be at least 13 years of age.

If you fly the drone indoors, there’s no requirement for a remote pilot’s license and if you fly it outdoors there’s still no requirement for this as long as your actions are within certain conditions (outlined below).

In terms of location, you need to make sure you avoid airspace, i.e. around and above an airport. There is a list of approved sites in an excel sheet provided by FAA. The FAA provides a link to an interactive map that you can use to check for blue dots that indicate these.

When operating the drone you need to abide by the common requirements mentioned at the beginning of this article as well as follow community-based safety guidelines.

These include (but not limited to) the following:

  1. Keep your drone in eyesight, and have someone assist if needed
  2. Fly at or below 400 feet
  3. Use in daylight only (or civil twilight with appropriate lighting)
  4. Max groundspeed 100 mph.
  5. Do not fly near or over sensitive infrastructure or property (power stations, water treatment facilities, correctional facilities, heavily traveled roadways, government facilities, and the like).
  6. Do not conduct surveillance or photograph individuals or groups in areas where there is an expectation of privacy without their permission.

As an alternative to these conditions, you can fly your drone for recreational purposes if you or someone overseeing you hold a remote pilot license, in which case, you must register your drone and adhere to the operational requirements (PDF) of Part 107.

National Parks Ban on Drones

There is a ban with few exceptions around flying drones launched and/or landed within national parks in the US and fairly hefty fines can apply. You can find out more about this here.

Other Restricted Places to Fly Drones

There are temporary flight restrictions that get imposes. You need to check those that are active via the FAA site.

Other Information Sources

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