Recreational and commercial drones have exploded in popularity in the last decade. From amateur photography to aerial crop monitoring, drones have found a place in nearly every aspect of society. I’ve seen them darting around backyards, filming firework shows, and taking aerial photos.
However, that ubiquity has led to the advent of many new laws. Because drones are considered aircraft by the FAA, they need to be regulated as such. Now, whether you want to fly commercially or just for fun, you need to demonstrate you know how to operate your drone safely.
The Basic Rules to Follow
So, what are the basic rules for owning and operating a drone? Legislation surrounding recreational and commercial drone use has expanded a lot. Although the government had to play a bit of catch-up at first, new laws and regulations are in place to keep you and those around you safe.
The easiest way to commit the drone rules to memory is with the D-R-O-N-E acronym:
- Don’t fly near airports or airfields.
- Remember to stay below 400 feet and at least 150 feet away from buildings and people.
- Observe your drone at all times.
- Never fly near aircraft.
- Enjoy responsibly.
If you follow these basic rules, you shouldn’t have trouble flying your drone.
Flying for Fun or for Work?
Although the easiest way to remember the basic droning rules is with DRONE, highlighting the nuance within those rules will make it easier to remember. In general, you can take these rules at face value. However, depending on your purposes, there are a few additional specific rules you should know.
Currently, a handful of states have legislation regulating drone use. If your state is one, read up on where you can fly and when.
Not sure what kind of user you are? Check out the FAA’s handy User Identification Tool to determine which registration you need.
Recreational Rules – Flying for Fun
The drone laws you must follow are straightforward if you plan to fly your drone for fun. Hobbyists who want to take a few pictures or videos don’t need to jump through many hoops to register their drones. However, before you can fly, you’ll have to register your drone and take a quick test proving you can use it safely. Once you’re done with that, you’ll be good to go.
All recreational drone users will need to take the Recreational UAS Safety Test. It might sound silly to take a test to fly what many see as a toy. However, there are plenty of good reasons for the FAA requiring registration.
Recreational drone hobbyists have caused a lot of problems in recent years. For example, over-eager drone operators have blocked fire planes, startled mama bears, and caused bodily harm. Most accidents happen because the pilot doesn’t know proper drone safety rules or etiquette. So, there are plenty of good reasons to demonstrate you know how to be safe.
Look at it this way. If someone crashed their car into your property and ran off, you’d be pretty upset if you couldn’t find the perpetrator. The same logic applies to drone registration.
The other regulations for recreational drone pilots are:
- You can’t generate income using your drone
- Your drone must fly within your line of sight
- All drones must be less than 55 pounds
- You can only fly in Class G airspace
- You can never fly near emergency vehicles, including ambulances or planes
The most important thing to remember when flying your recreational drone is always to think twice. If flying your drone in a specific area doesn’t seem like a good idea on the surface, it probably isn’t.
Commercial Rules – Flying for Work
Drones have a wide array of commercial uses from crop monitoring to starring in a Broadway show. However, as a business owner, you’re held to a much higher standard than the average hobbyist. As a result, stricter laws exist to ensure commercial pilots take their jobs and roles seriously.
As with recreational drone operators, you’ll need to register your drone. However, the FAA requires you to take it one step further. To be a commercial drone pilot, you must have a license and demonstrate a thorough knowledge of Part 107 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
Other commercial drone regulations and rules include the following:
- You cannot fly from a moving vehicle in a populated area
- Always yield to manned aircraft
- Always fly under 100 miles per hour
- Always fly under 400 feet
- Fly in Class G airspace
- Drones must be less than 55 pounds
Certain restrictions, including height, distance, and speed limits, can be waived if you apply for and receive a Part 107 waiver.
Register Your Drone
Just like your car, you must register your drone before legally flying it. The only exception is if your drone weighs less than .55 pounds. Fortunately, registering doesn’t require a frustrating trip to the DMV. Instead, you can register it on the FAA’s website in just a few minutes. Or, if it’s easier, you can register by snail mail.
You’ll also need to apply for a Remote Pilot Certificate when registering your drone. As mentioned above, commercial drone pilots need a Part 107 waiver to use their drones for work purposes.
Anyone applying to register a recreational drone must be a US citizen or legal permanent resident over 13. If you want to fly commercially, you’ll have to be at least 16 years old. Drone registration costs $5 per drone and is valid for three years.
When you register your drone, you’ll need to provide the following info:
- Mailing address
- Phone number
- Make and model
- Remote ID (serial number)
- Credit or debit card
Once the FAA issues your registration, they’ll send you a certificate that you’ll need to have with you whenever you fly.
In addition, the law requires you to label your drone with the FAA-assigned registration number. This way, if your drone happens to crash into a neighbor’s yard or gets lost in the woods, it’ll be easy to identify you as the owner.
Use Common Sense
As you read over the rules and regulations I’ve explained, you might see one factor they all share, which is that they’re based on common sense. So, if you’re ever in doubt about whether you should do something with your drone, look at the situation logically. Drone laws are designed to keep you, other people, and your drone safe.
For example, keeping your drone within your sight line prevents it from getting lost. Similarly, sticking to class G airspace ensures you don’t run into sticky situations with larger aircraft. And, of course, laws requiring registration add a layer of personal accountability to drone pilots.
Drone operators must be fully versed in recreational and commercial droning laws, rules, and etiquette. I’ll be honest–I was surprised to find out just how much of a legal issue drones have become in the last decade.
But the bottom line is that you’re putting a motorized vehicle in the sky that can cause property damage and bodily harm if you don’t use it properly. So, keep each of the drone laws in mind when purchasing your drone. And, of course, don’t forget to register.