Important Information about U.S. Drone Laws this Holiday Season

BY Alan Perlman
21 December 2016

Drone laws holiday seasonCheck out today’s post on drone safety during the holidays from James Mackler of the Frost Brown Todd law group. James holds a commercial pilot certificate, and advises businesses on the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in various industries. Read James Mackler’s bio here.

Here is James’ post on holiday safety:

It’s almost impossible to scan a holiday gift guide without coming across a list of drones suggested as the perfect present for the techie or photographer in your life.

This season, you’ll be able to spend anywhere from $35 for a “nano” drone to $3,500 or more for a professional quality flying videography/photography platform.

One thing that every drone has in common is that they’re subject to some degree of state and federal regulation. In order to avoid getting yourself or a loved one in trouble, make sure you’re familiar with these legal instructions before buying or giving a drone.

Hobby vs. Commercial Use

Different rules apply to commercial flight as opposed to hobby use. The first thing to determine, therefore, is how the drone will be used.

Examples of commercial use are wedding photography and real-estate marketing, even if no additional fee is charged for the use of the drone. In other words, if there is any way that the operator will make money from flying or from selling photos or data taken by the drone, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will likely view this as a commercial use.

Commercial Use Rules

The FAA rules governing commercial users have changed dramatically since the last holiday season.

Commercial users need to obtain a special pilot’s certificate, get permission to fly in certain airspace, and comply with a variety of restrictions regarding airspeed, altitude, aircraft weight, and more.

If the drone is going to be used commercially, it is best to consult with an attorney. At the very least, you should take the time to carefully read, understand, and follow the applicable FAA regulations.

Hobby Use Rules

Hobby users have fewer restrictions. Most importantly, all users, whether hobby or commercial, must fly in a safe manner. Any flights seen as careless or reckless will violate FAA rules and likely state laws against reckless endangerment.

Examples of careless flying include buzzing directly over a person’s head, near airports, or interfering with manned airplanes or helicopters.

Weight-Related Regulations: Knowing When to Register Your Drone

Another important law to know is that hobby users and commercial users flying any drone that weighs over 0.55 pounds must register with the FAA. As a general rule, most drones that cost over $150 will weigh more than 0.55 pounds. Registration can be accomplished online and costs $5. Flying an unregistered drone is federal felony that could result in hefty fines or jail time.

It is also very important to respect your neighbor’s privacy and property rights. A number of state laws protect property owners from drones conducting surveillance or committing trespass.

In addition to avoiding criminal penalties, respectful flying is just the right thing to do.

Line of Sight Requirements

In addition to registering your drone and flying in a respectful manner, the FAA requires hobby pilots to always maintain sight of their aircraft. If you cannot see your drone you are doing something wrong.

Also, although hobby users do not need permission to fly, if you are flying within five miles of an airport you must notify the airport and the air traffic control tower before flying.

Drone flying can be a great way to spend an afternoon, to earn some extra money, or can be the foundation for a new business. Just keep in mind that you will have to become a student of both flight and of the law.

Looking for some gift ideas for the drone lover in your life? Check out our 2016 Drone Holiday Gift Guide! 

 

Alan Perlman

Founder & CEO

Alan is an FAA-certified drone pilot and founded UAV Coach in 2014 to help connect drone enthusiasts, to provide world-class sUAS industry training courses, and to help push the drone community forward with a focus on safety and commercial opportunities.

Join a global community of

50,000+

drone enthusiasts.

Subscribe