Flying a drone in the United States is legal. However, the activity is bound by US drone regulations mandated by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). Drone regulations can differ from person to person (based on the status of residency) or nature of flight (hobbyist or commercial). Let’s break down how to get your drone airborne legally:
US drone regulations for hobbyists
There are certain ground rules that all hobbyists must obey at all times:
- Drones shouldn’t be flown for commercial work.
- Drones must be flown within VLOS (Visual Line of Sight)
- Drones must weigh below 55 lbs (25kg) including payload
- Must never fly near airports or in controlled airspace (permission needed)
- Only permitted to fly in Class G airspace, strictly below 400ft.
- Drones must never obstruct emergency services
The first step after buying a drone must be to register it with the FAA on the FAADroneZone website. Note: If your drone weighs below 0.55lbs (250g), you need not register your drone. Also, drones weighing above 55lbs (25kg) should register on paper and not through the web portal. To register, the pilot must be 13 years of age or older. All hobbyists must register under the ‘Exception for Recreational Flyers‘. The registration portal requests you to create login credentials. Once the credentials have been confirmed via your submitted email you will be able to log into your FAADroneZone account.
Once logged in, head over to the Recreational Flyer Dashboard. In the dashboard, fill out the details of your profile (Name, email, address, etc.) and proceed to checkout. At the checkout, you will have to pay a registration fee of $5. Once paid, you will receive a unique registration number that will be applicable for any UAV you own in the respective category. The registration number will only be valid for up to 3 years and must be renewed. Also, It is important that this registration number must be pasted on your UAV where it is clearly visible.
Therefore, after this final step, the UAV can be flown in the designated airspace (read about airspace classes), abiding by the community rules and basic regulations. If the hobbyist wishes to fly their drone in other classes of airspace other than class G, the FAA recommends using any of these 3 methods to gain permission- LAANC, DroneZone, a written agreement with the FAA for fixed flying sites(UAShelp@faa.gov).
These are some common regulations that are applicable to all drone flyers and must be strictly adhered to:
- Drones must not be flown during the night unless there is ample lighting on the drone to identify its location and orientation at all times.
- Hobbyists cannot fly their drones in controlled airspace and to do so would require certification and authorization.
- Drones must not be directly flown over people or moving vehicles.
- Drones must steer clear of the path for emergency responders, rescue efforts and law enforcement agencies.
- Operating a drone under the influence of narcotics or intoxicating substances of any kind can lead to the drone damaging life and property, thereby leading to legal prosecution.
Violation of any of these guidelines could result in criminal/civil penalties. As of now getting a drone registration number and pasting it on the drone is the only legal step necessary to fly a drone in the US for a hobbyist. However, FAA’s new Reauthorization Bill will soon require drone pilots (hobbyists and commercial) to take the aeronautical knowledge and safety test at FAA-approved centers. Drone pilots will then be required to carry the proof of passing the test at all times with them. Additionally, flying drones in certain areas or airspace is strictly prohibited. Therefore, to find out restricted airspace, drone pilots can use the FAA’s official airspace app- B4UFLY.
If you happen to be a tourist, there are some extra precautions and guidelines to be followed. Your drone must comply with TSA requirements, airline policies, the FAA drone regulations and many more. Read more about traveling with a drone here.