Drone Laws, Rules and Regulations
With drones becoming a part of our daily lives, it is only evident that some ground rules will be implemented to regulate their usage and operations. Hence, we have the drone laws drafted and executed all across the US regulated by the Federal Aviation Authority in combination with the State governments.
The state governments can also dictate the rules and regulars for drone flying according to their requirements and limitations they want to impose on the citizens. Irrespective of the fact that you are living in the US or traveling here, following the FAA drone rules is imperative.
Also, irrespective of your experience in drone flying, you must follow the drone laws that include registration, licensing, flying restrictions, and so on. If you are unaware of any of these aspects, rest assured that we will talk about every sort of rule and law you must know with regards to flying a drone.
Identify What Type of Drone Flyer You Are
Drone flying activities and rules vary with the type of drone flyer. For instance, the height limit is different for recreational flyers than for a commercial drone pilot and a government user or public safety drone pilot.
Recreational fliers comprise the highest majority of drone flyers in the country as most people buy drones for experience and limited business uses. Yes, a recreational drone flyer can use his drone to earn money. This means that financial compensation is the only criteria to help decide the type of drone flier.
There is some overlap, as in some cases, getting a specific registration (part 107) is imperative for several forms of commercial drone flying. So, you should consult the local enforcement agency to get assured advice on this matter.
The key thing to note here is that the rules change as per the use case. In any case, drone registration is imperative if the drone weighs more than 250 grams.
So, you see, even in a single category of drone flying, there are a variety of rules and regulations you must adhere to.
Certified Remote Pilots (Commercial Drone Operators)
The FAA allows using a drone for commercial purposes if the drone weighs less than 55 pounds and you have obtained certification under the purview of Part 107. Commercial drone activities will give you the freedom to use your drone for stock photography, shoot commercial videos, wedding photography, indulge in cinematic works, etc.
Getting a commercial license opens up a wide gamut of doors to participate in different commercial activities depending upon your drone flying abilities.
Public Safety and Government
For when there is a need to oversee the drone flying activities in the region and ensure public safety, the third type of drone flyers come into the picture. These drones are flown by public safety agencies, including law enforcement organizations.
This type of drone flying is purposeful in to detect, deter, and investigate any sort of unauthorized activity in the region, along with keeping surveillance in sensitive areas like nuclear plant installations, borders, and military establishments.
Using Drones for Education
Since drones have become part and parcel of our lives, it was only due that they should be brought into the educational field. Hence, the FAA has recognized a separate category of drone flyers wherein the teachers and students can bring drones to the educational institutions.
Here again, the rules and regulations for this drone flying are different and unique to the purpose. The FAA has also created specific drone resources for educators depending on the classes they are teaching.
Drone Regulations That You Should Know
The FAA drone regulations are akin to a living document as it breathes and grows with time. So, you can expect changes in the regulations periodically or sometimes based on an incident.
Although there are several regulations that are essential for you to understand, listed below are some of the major ones that dictate the primary requirements for drone flying. Also, discussing all the regulations is out of the scope of this article. So, we will stick to the basics.
Federal Aviation Regulations
This regulation document is divided into parts, with every part dictating the rules of aviation-related activities. We will list down and talk in brief about the parts that are directly related to the drones for our purpose.
Part 47 – Paper Registration
Even though the paper-based registration process may not seem relevant today, some types of drone registration are essential to complete via this format.
The drones that are meant to be operated outside the US borders and weigh more than 55 pounds, registration via paper are required. More importantly, the drones registered under Part 47 take an aircraft into account, whereas Part 48 will take the person into account.
So, under Part 47, only a drone can be registered, which means that you will need multiple registrations for different drones.
Part 48 – Online Registration
This regulation dictates the process to register the drone online. The online registration is only for the drones that weigh between 0.55 pounds to 55 pounds. Remember that the weight limitation includes all the additional attachments on the drone, which means that the weight of the drone during takeoff is taken into account.
Part 107 – Remote Pilot Certification
If you want to fly a drone in the US, registering under this rule is imperative. Almost every drone flyer, including recreational, commercial, and public safety, must register themselves under this regulation.
Along with sharing the registration process and the authority responsible for giving the certification, how to obtain the license, how can you lose the license to fly, and how to get waivers.
Part 93 – Special Considerations in Air Traffic Control
This is the part that made some noise at the time of its implementation, as this part describes the ways and means of flying a drone in some special areas. If you have ever heard about the “No Fly Zone,” that specific area is controlled by the rules set forth in Part 93.
With the FAA drone regulars covered, we can move on to the FAA drone registration process of different types of drones.
Drone Registration under FAA
The drone registration process works under the ambit of Part 47, 48, and 107. The terms and conditions under these drone laws are dictated as below.
Part 47 and 48 are related to drone registration, and Part 107 is about getting a certification of drone flying in the country. So, when you are registering under Part 47, Part 107 will come into action simultaneously.
Part 47 – Aircraft Registration – Unmanned Aircraft (UA)
Requirements for registration:
- The drone must weigh 55 pounds or more
- It is owned by a trustee under a special trust agreement.
The drones that will be registered under this drone registration process will only move forward if the drone is owned by a US citizen or by a person who is lawfully admitted into the country.
An organization, a government authority, and a corporation can also register a drone under this part.
Step by Step Process:
- Fill out the aircraft registration form titled AC Form 8050-1.
- Get a notarized affidavit that details everything about the drone, including the manufacturer, legal name, model designation, serial number, class, maximum takeoff weight, type of engine, and number of engines.
- Provide a proof of ownership of the drone by filling out an AC form 8050-2 and providing an affidavit with the bill of sale.
- Give an affidavit of declaration about the authenticity of the details provided.
- Receive your random N-number and pay the $5 registration fee.
The process is complete by sending the FAA drone registration documents to the Aircraft Registration branch in your city or State.
Part 107 – Certification for Remote Pilots
In this segment of understanding the drone laws, the federal authority has dictated the FAA drone rules to register yourself as a drone pilot. The below-provided rules are the latest in this segment, and they came into effect from 21st April 2021.
Note that these rules for registering as a drone pilot apply to drones that weigh less than 55 pounds.
The prerequisites of getting a certification include learning the rules.
- Start by understanding all the rules of drone flying. We will also discuss these rules in brief in the succeeding sections.
- Identify the drone flying activities that require a waiver. To get a waiver for flying the drone, you must also apply for one by filling out an application.
- Any drone flier should not fly around airports.
Remote Pilot Certificate Requirements:
Understanding the basic drone rules is vital as they will help you pass the knowledge test. There are a few requirements to take the knowledge test.
- Eligibility: The person taking the remote pilot certificate test must be of 16 years and able to read, write, speak, and understand English. Lastly, the person must be physically and mentally stable to fly the drone.
- Prepare: Prepare yourself by understanding the testing process and reviewing the test materials.
- Tracking Number: Get your FAA Tracking Number (FTN) and create an account on Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application. Schedule an appointment for the test.
- Obtain Certificate: Give the test and obtain the certificate subject to your pass percentage.
The last leg of getting the drone pilot certificate is to register your drone. Due to this step, Part 107 of FAA drone rules has become a one-stop solution for flying a drone in the US without having to dabble with other options.
Unless specifically required, you will be able to get a license and register your drone by following the process underlined in this part of the US drone laws.
Under Part 107, a welcome change has been recently inducted with the Operations Over People Rule, which came into effect from 21st April 2021. As per the new rule, you can fly a drone at night, over other people, and from a moving vehicle without applying for a special waiver.
Rules of Drone Flying for Every Category
The FAA drone rules are meant to instruct how you shall fly your drone in every respect. There are some restrictions, suggestions, and limitations dictated through these FAA drone regulations that must be followed by every person who holds a drone license.
Due to their nature of business, the rules for each type of drone flying activity are different. In other words, the rules for a recreational flyer are slightly different than the rules for non-recreational flyers, public safety drones, etc.
Depending on what type of drone you are flying and for what purpose you are flying, the rules will vary. Ergo, we have listed down the more relevant FAA-provided drone rules for every type of drone flier.
Rules for Recreational Flyers
Before going through the rules, it would be better to create a boundary between recreational and non-recreational flying.
This is the type of flying that is limited to fun and personal enjoyment. In other words, drone flying activities from where you are not getting any monetary value is described as recreational flying.
Besides the clear indication of non-recreational flying, there are a few other activities where you might not get any monetary reward. However, they are still considered as non-recreational flying. These are activities like surveying an area or mapping the coastline for an NGO without any cost.
The principle is that any activity that brings some materialistic value to you or another entity is non-recreational. For the activities that are meant for your enjoyment and fun are regarded as recreational flying.
Recreational Flying- Do’s and Don’t Do’s:
- First of all, you should fly the drone only for recreational purposes.
- Make sure to follow the safety guidelines prepared by the Community Based Organizations that are recognized by the FAA. At present, the FAA has not yet recognized any CBO. However, once they are recognized, you must adhere to the guidelines provided by them because they are better positioned to formulate community or area-specific drone flying rules.
- When flying a drone, do not ever let it out of your sight. You can also take the help of a visual observer who will keep an eye on the drone, but the observer must always be in constant contact with you.
- The manned aircraft shall always have the right of way. In other words, you need to give way to all types of manned aircraft and do not interfere with their flight path.
- The FAA has recognized two types of airspace, controlled and uncontrolled. The controlled airspace is marked as Class B, C, D, and E) whereas the uncontrolled airspace is marked as Class G.
Your drone should always fly at 400 ft or below, but never above that in both controlled and uncontrolled airspace. Secondly, for flying in the controlled airspace, you need to take prior permission from the LAANC or DroneZone.
- Certain areas of the airspace are tagged as a No-Fly Zone by the FAA, federal, and the State governments on several grounds. Irrespective of the state and region you are residing in, it is essential to check these areas and do not fly here at all. You can use the B4UFLY application or check out the UAS Facility Maps to know the areas.
- While flying the drone, the quadcopter must have a registration and mark your drone with the same. Along with this, you need to carry your registration documents with you while flying or traveling with the drone.
- You should never fly the drone under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Along with this, never interfere with the works of any emergency services.
- You need a license to fly a drone, and every drone flyer must have obtained the age of 16 or above to be eligible for flying the drone here.
- As a general safety rule, ensure that you are flying the drone in broad daylight (surpassed by the Operations Over People Rule). Flying during the sunset is also safe, but make sure to bring the drone home before it starts to get dark to an extent that you cannot see the drone with naked eyes.
- Never fly two drones together. In other words, no drone pilot must take the risk of flying two drones simultaneously.
Recreational Flying- Violation:
Any individual found violating these rules and regulations will be subject to the FAA enforcement action.
The rules above form the core structure of the FAA drone rules and drone regulations. However, from time to time, we have observed changes in drone flying rules. These rules pertain to drone registration licence and other aspects.
This time, the latest entry of new FAA drone rules have come as a blessing for the recreational flyers. As per the new rule, you need not obtain authorization from the FAA or any other designated authority before flying a drone in uncontrolled airspace, provided you follow the other flying limits and considerations.
However, the non-obligation to obtain authorization does not mean that you don’t need a license. A license is required irrespective of the fact that you are flying a drone in a controlled or uncontrolled airspace.
Rules for Commercial and Non-Recreational Drone Pilots
Where the majority of the drone rules meant for recreational purposes also apply to non-recreational and commercial purposes, you must adhere to a specific set of rules meant for them.
The set of rules meant for commercial drone usage begins with clearly identifying what passes as commercial activity. Photography and videography are the most obvious commercial activities associated with drone flying. But that is not it. You can also include aerial mapping, land surveys, surveillance, emergency management, area inspections (roof, structures, towers, etc.).
Before getting your certificate to fly a commercial drone, you need to pass the test, which further requires understanding all the rules set forth by the authorities under Part 107.
For better identification of the aspect whether you are eligible to fly under Part 107 or not, the FAA drone regulations authority has also provided a User Identification Tool. Answer a few questions in Yes/No, and you will be told whether you can fly a drone under Part 107 or do you need any other special requirements to complete.
Operations not Covered Under Part 107
Where the FAA drone regulation covers the majority of the operations, there are some activities that require special waivers. These are;
- Flying a drone from a moving vehicle
- Flying one over the people and in restricted airspace
- To yield the right of way
- Operating the drone during the night
Besides the rule for yielding the right of way, the other three rules do not require a special waiver as they are allowed under Part 107. However, you will still need to get special permission to fly the drone above 400 feet during the night. For getting a waiver to operate the drone in any of the regulated and restricted areas, you need to fill out a Waiver Application.
After understanding the rules, the second part is passing the FAA-Certified Drone pilot test. To take the test, you must be of 16 years of age and must be able to read, speak, write, and understand English. Prepare for and take the test to obtain the certificate.
This is to be followed by registering your drone (if you have not already done that) with the authorities according to the FAA drone registration rules (the process is explained above).
Public Safety and Government Drone Operators
The public safety and government drone operators have the power and authority to deter, detect, and investigate any sort of unauthorized UAS operations. The agencies tasked with the safety operations may be better positioned to work on the safety aspects, but they also come under the same guidelines, with some waivers.
The public safety and enforcement agencies can continue with their operations under two arrangements.
- Fly under the 14 CFR Part 107: This part allows flying the drone or an unmanned aircraft under 55 pounds below 400 feet.while keeping the drone in the line of sight.
- Fly Under the Statutory Requirements: Under this rule, the pilots can fly their drones after getting a certificate of waiver or authorization. This certificate self-certifies the UAS and operators to perform governmental duties.
Flying Drones For Educational Purposes
Flying a drone for educational purposes is also allowed as per the FAA drone rules and regulations. Any kind of teacher or student can bring the drone into the educational curriculum provided that they are following the rules and regulations.
Here too, all the drone flying rules and exemptions apply under Part 107. In addition to this, there are some other considerations required.
- Out of the scope of Part 107, the regulation under 49 U.S.C 44809, you can fly a drone for educational purposes without complying with Part 107. However, if you are not following the drone laws and regulations under Part 107, you need to adhere to the rules as stated under section 44809.
- There are separate FAA drone regulations that hold a statutory standing under P.L. 115-224, Section 350. These rules clarify the educational and research-oriented uses of drones that will work under the ambit of the rule for recreational uses.
This completes our detailed review of drone laws, rules, and regulations. We have talked about the rules that outline flying a drone, getting registered as a drone flier, and registering your drone with the authorities. Flying a drone is quickly becoming an everyday part of our lives. Seeing its mass adoption and wide availability in every part of the country, the FAA has set some ground rules that will ensure a safe, secure, and well-maintained drone flying activity all across.
Where can I fly my drone?
You can fly a drone anywhere except for the places that have been designated as a no-fly zone. These are the areas like establishments of national importance, sensitive areas (nuclear plants), airports, stadiums, public places, and over the head of people. There are exemptions provided in the system, and some of the rules have been removed, but at the behest of the person’s ability to understand the rules and pilot the drone responsibly.
How to stop drones from flying over your house?
A drone above your house tantamounts to breaching your privacy. However, you cannot also shoot down drones flying above your house as it will be called damage to personal property. Even though it is a nuisance, you need to take the right approach here and document the drone flying over your house. Get your phone and record the drone making an effort to get its registration number. If not for the number, just record the drone and inform the local enforcement agency and the nearest police station.
How to legally take down a drone?
The only legal way to take down a drone is by documenting and reporting the incident to the nearest law enforcement agency. You cannot shoot, jam, or spoof a drone because the drones are protected by federal law. This is because the FAA recognizes every type of drone as an aircraft, and the aircraft are protected under federal law.