How to Choose a Safe and Legal Location to Fly Your Drone
BY Isabella Lee17 April 2019
The best part about owning a drone is flying it! That seems pretty obvious, but for some drone owners finding a safe and legal location to fly turns out to be harder than they anticipated.
Many drone pilots wind up disappointed when they find out local regulations prohibit drones in the park where they had planned to practice flying, or frustrated when they find out that the airspace nearby requires special permission before flying.
How can you determine whether or not it’s legal to fly at a certain location? With a bit of research, finding a place to fly doesn’t have to be difficult.
We recommend that you follow these steps when researching locations to fly (and we’ll talk about each in more detail in the sections below):
- Make sure you’re familiar with federal regulations
- Understand the airspace of the location you’d like to fly in
- Check for local regulations that may impact your ability to fly
- Check for TFRs and NOTAMs
You can also consult our Where to Fly Your Drone Guide designed to help drone pilots find safe and legal places to fly. In it, you’ll find three to five places to fly in over 25 of the most populated cities across the U.S. This guide can take out some of the legwork in finding a place to fly your drone, but we recommend conducting your own research following the steps below as well.
Steps to Help Drone Pilots Find Safe and Legal Locations to Fly
1. Make sure you’re familiar with federal regulations
The first thing to understand about flying a drone in the U.S. is that under federal FAA regulations, you are either operating recreationally or commercially.
Determine which category your operations fall under, and then familiarize yourself with the coordinating set of regulations. If you fly your drone for fun, as a hobby, you’re flying recreationally. If you fly for work or business, you’re flying commercially.
- Recreational drone pilots fall under the FAA’s model aircraft rules.
- Commercial drone pilots are required to obtain a certification and fall under the FAA’s Part 107 regulations.
Both recreational and commercial drone pilots are required to register their drones through the FAA DroneZone portal. We walk you through the registration process here.
2. Understand the airspace of the location you’d like to fly in
Once you have a location in mind for your drone operation, you’ll need to find out what airspace class it sits in. Tools like B4UFLY, Kittyhawk, or Airmap allow you to view the airspace class by simply putting in the name or address of the location.
You’ll need to determine whether you’ll be flying in Class G uncontrolled airspace or Class B, C, D, or E controlled airspace. If you’re in Class G uncontrolled airspace, no permission from the FAA is required. If you’re in Class B, C, D, or E airspace and flying commercially under Part 107, you’ll need authorization from the FAA. Check out our complete guide to airspace authorization.
In addition to airspace class, there are other types of airspace restrictions you should be aware of. These include restrictions around:
- Stadiums and Sporting Events – Drone flights are prohibited within a radius of three nautical miles of the stadium or venue one hour before until one hour after major sporting events.
- Airports – Recreational pilots must notify the airport operator and air traffic control tower to fly within 5 miles of an airport. Commercial pilots must obtain permission from the FAA to fly in controlled airspace using LAANC or DroneZone.
- Emergency and rescue operations – It is prohibited to fly your drone over any emergency or rescue operation including wildfires and hurricanes.
- Security Sensitive Airspace Restrictions – Drones are prohibited from flying over designated national security sensitive facilities such as military bases, prisons, national landmarks, nuclear powerplants, and other types of critical infrastructure.
- Restricted or Special Use Airspace – Restricted or “special use” airspace is for certain areas where drones and other aircraft are not permitted to fly without special permission, or where limitations must be imposed for any number of reasons.
- Washington, DC No Drone Zone – DC is governed by a Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) within a 30-mile radius of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), which restricts all flights in the greater D.C. area.
- National Parks – It is illegal to launch, land, or operate unmanned aircraft within any unit of the National Park System.
You’ve done your homework on the airspace, obtained any required authorization, and notified nearby airports—you’re pretty sure you’re ready for takeoff now. Well, not so fast.
Even though the FAA has full jurisdiction over U.S. airspace, flying that’s approved by the FAA could still get you in trouble with local authorities, and in some cases even locked up for breaking local laws.
More laws are being passed at the state and local level regarding drones, resulting in municipal laws and town ordinances that may restrict your drone operations beyond the FAA regulations. If the location where you intend to fly has a website, check to see if anything is mentioned about drone restrictions in the ‘Rules’ section.
If any local rules exist, you can commonly find them the city’s code of ordinances, municipal code, or in the rules set by the state’s department of parks and recreation. Another helpful resource for researching local drone laws is our Drone Laws Guide, which outlines the state and local drone regulations we’ve been able to find.
4. Check for TFRs and NOTAMs
Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) limit drone flights in certain areas due to:
- Temporary hazardous conditions, such as a wildfire, hurricane, or chemical spill
- A security-related event, such as the United Nations General Assembly
- Other special situations, like VIP movement
Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) share urgent and real-time information about the abnormal status of a component of the National Airspace System (NAS).
While TFRs and NOTAMs are something you’ll want to check just prior to operating to ensure you’re not missing any last-minute additions, these are alerts you can (and should) check for ahead of time as well.
You can check for TFRs and NOTAMs at the following links:
Consulting our Where to Fly Your Drone Guide
It can be difficult to identify the various local regulations in every city, which is why we spent hours researching each location for our Where to Fly Your Drone Guide.
Our goal with this resource is to focus on safe and legal piloting of UAVs that follow the FAA’s guidelines. We provide guidance on regulations to help you stay compliant with both federal and local rules. The locations we list are not exhaustive and are simply meant to provide direction. We are not aviation attorneys, so it goes without saying that you should perform additional research on your intended drone operation and chosen airspace.
For each flight location in our guide, we’ve included information about airspace class, nearby airports, and what makes each location great for drones. Paired with the steps we’ve just outlined above, we hope this helps you confidently identify a safe and legal location to fly your drone.
Share your favorite location to fly a drone with us in this thread on our community forum.