FAA Drone Rules: Everything You Need to Know
Just a few days before New Year’s, I walked my dog through my neighborhood. We only went a couple of miles, but I saw three people playing with brand-new drones they must have gotten as presents.
I too have a drone, and I’m excited to see the hobby spreading. When I first got mine, I was a little anxious about FAA drone rules. Could I get myself into trouble while just trying to have fun with my new toy?
I’m sure the others I saw on my walk had that same sense of anxiety. Which is why I wanted to share this post on FAA drone rules. They aren’t as complicated as you might guess, and they don’t even really put a cramp on how much fun you can have.
But, still, make sure you keep your drone flying fun by following the FAA drone rules you’ll see below. Happy flying!
Recreational Drones vs. Commercial Drones
The first thing to know is the difference between recreational drones (Just for fun!) and commercial drones (Just to make money!).
For example, if you get a new drone for Christmas, and you’re just flying it around the neighborhood, that’s a recreational drone. But, if you’re a photographer, and you start using your drone to take aerial photos for money, that’s a commercial drone.
How does that affect you? If you’re flying a recreational drone, you have far fewer rules and regulations to deal with. But, if you’re flying a commercial drone, you’re going to need to jump through some additional hoops.
Getting Your Pilot’s License
If you’re going to use a drone for commercial purposes, you’re going to need to pass a test and get certified by the FAA. That is, you need a pilot’s license.
The rules that govern commercial use of drones are filed under Part 107. Part 107 allows you to fly a drone either recreationally or commercially, as long as that drone is under 55 pounds.
The pilot must register the drone and also get what’s known as the FAA’s Remote Pilot Certificate. After that, it’s just a matter of following the rules.
But here’s the one big benefit of flying a drone commercially. You can always apply for a waiver to any of the rules, including rules against flying a drone out of sight, flying at night and flying above 400 feet.
Recreational drone users cannot apply for these waivers.
FAA Drone Registration Rules
Both recreational and commercial drone pilots must register their aircraft. I explained the process for commercial pilots above, but here’s a little bit more on the process for recreational drone users …
Recreational drone usage is regulated under Section 336. Section 336 requires registration of drones for a fee of $5. Any registration is good for 3 years.
You can quickly and easily register your drone through either Part 107 or Section 336 here.
The non-negotiable rules for recreational drones include:
- Never fly near emergency response situations.
- Never fly near other aircraft.
- Always fly within sight of the drone.
- Notify airports and air traffic control before flying a drone within 5 miles of an airport.
Again, there are no waivers available to recreational users.
FAA Drone Rules Summary
If you’re looking for the tl;dr, here’s an FAA drone rules summary:
- Keep it to 400 feet or below.
- Always be able to see your drone.
- Keep away from aircraft and airports.
- Don’t fly over sports stadiums or groups of people.
- Stay away from emergency response situations.
- Never fly under the influence.
Recreational pilots must always follow these rules. Commercial pilots may apply for waivers to some of them.
The Drone Opportunity
Just because commercial drone usage comes with more requirements doesn’t mean you should avoid it altogether. In fact, there’s a huge commercial opportunity for drone pilots.
Perhaps the best opportunity is photography. Real estate photography is just one example. Agents and brokerages are now hiring photographers that specialize in drone aerials to help sell properties. Needless to say, this is high-paying work.
So get started with your recreational drone and get really good at flying it. Then get your commercial certificate, and you can start your own business.
Know Your Local Laws and Regulations
One final reminder about FAA drone rules — there are also state and local laws, rules and regulations.
Business Insider provides a nice rundown of state regulations. While some states haven’t passed any laws governing the use of drones (We’re looking at your Alabama, Alaska and Arizona.), other have passed extensive rules (That’s you Florida, Illinois and Texas.).
Read your state laws and find out about any local regulations before you start flying.
Final Thoughts on FAA Drone Rules
Looking for a short summary? How about this: Be smart. That’s all it really takes. I’ve been using my drone without incident for a long time, and I’m not checking the rules every week. I’m just being smart.
And let me tell you that flying drones is a heck of a lot of fun. So get your drone, get registered, read up on the rules and start your flying.
Have you had an interesting drone experience? If so, let us know in the comments section below, or you can always use our contact form to message us directly.
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