Federal Drone Laws
National Aviation Authority (NAA) Defined[edit | edit source]
A Civil or National Aviation Authority (NAA, CAA) is a country’s constitutional government authority responsible for maintaining the aircraft register. These official bodies also oversee the approval and regulation of all matters related to civil aviation. In the United States, the CAA authority is the Federal Aviation Administration or FAA. In the US, the NAA derived its powers from the Civil or Federal Aviation Act (1958).
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Defined[edit | edit source]
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates every aspect of US civil aviation. Its powers extend to the international waters that surround the continent. The FAA has exclusive authority to control aviation safety efficiency, including air traffic control and navigable airspace. No US state or local government has the authority to regulate aircraft operations of any description. For example, state or local governments are prohibited from regulating the surrounding navigable airspace, flight paths, and altitudes.
Federal Laws for Recreational Pilots[edit | edit source]
Any person who flies drones for fun is considered a recreational pilot by the FAA. Federal laws pertain to the activities allowed by users of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). These legal requirements and safety tips exist to help recreational pilots fly aircraft safely in national airspace. Flight rules and regulations for recreational drone pilots exist to protect the operator, the aircraft, other people, places, property, and all living things.
Failure to Comply with Safe Flying Guidelines[edit | edit source]
The FAA has a zero-tolerance policy for drone pilots who fly in a way deemed inconsiderate or reckless. The penalties for negligent flying can be civil and criminal, and even include jail time, depending on the severity of the incident. Moreover, the FAA can issue fines up to $27,500 for civil incidents and/or fines of up to $250,000 for criminal cases. Below are the 11 current federal laws in the United States. These apply to recreational drone pilots and community-based modeler organizations:
#1 Registration and Identification
Recreational pilots must register their drone with the FAA if it weighs between 0.55 lbs. (250g) and 55 lbs. (25kg). Every user gets a unique registration number that must be clearly visible on the outside of the model. Permissible marking methods include a permanent marker pen, permanent sticker, and engraving. Recreational pilots must also carry proof of registration with them while operating the craft.
#2 Flight activities
Recreational drone pilots are only permitted to fly for fun and entertainment purposes.
#3 Altitude restrictions (uncontrolled airspace)
Pilots must fly their drone at or below 400ft above ground level when operating in uncontrolled (Class G) airspace. Class G airspace is that which is close to the ground.
#4 Altitude restrictions (controlled airspace)
Controlled airspace relates to Class B, C, D, and E. Recreational drone pilots must meet radio communication requirements and/or get Air Traffic Control tower (ATC) clearance before entering Class B, Class C, and Class D airspace. Securing ATC authorization from the relevant ATC only applies to class E airspace when it’s close to an airport.
Flying in controlled airspace (Class B, C, D, and E) is only allowed with the official authorization from one of three sources.
Recreational drone pilots can obtain authorization in the following ways:
Ref #3, contact UAShelp here.
Warning. There are strict guidelines pertaining to where you can and can’t fly drones for fun. Certain airspace is prohibited, while others have flying restrictions. Recreational pilots can learn more about flying restrictions and airspace classes on the FAA’s B4UFLY mobile app.
#5 Fly within the Line of Sight (LOS)
Recreational pilots must keep their drones within the visual line of sight (LOS) or the LOS of a co-observer or copilot. Visual observers must be present, i.e., within the direct line of physical communication of the person flying the aircraft.
#6 Night flying
Flying drones at night is disallowed unless the model has proper lighting for flying in the dark. Suitable lighting refers to lights that enable you to keep the model within the LOS. Adequate lighting must let you see the drone’s orientation and physical location at all times.
#7 Be mindful of manned aircraft
Drone pilots must always give way to—and never interfere with—manned aircraft.
#8 People and vehicles
Never fly recreational drones over individuals, groups, crowds of people, or moving vehicles.
#9 Respect emergency responders
Pilots must NEVER interfere with the activities and operations of first responders. Emergency response includes law enforcement activities, accident response, disaster relief operations, firefighting, and others.
#10 Never fly under the influence (UI)
Recreational pilots must have a clear mind to operate drones safely. The side effects of illicit and certain over-the-counter (OTC) medications can negatively impact one’s ability to fly. Thus, no person should ever attempt to fly under the influence of mind-altering substances.
#11 Always fly responsibly
Never operate a drone in a thoughtless or reckless manner.
Federal Laws for Commercial Pilots[edit | edit source]
Commercial pilots are permitted to fly drones 55 pounds and less for work or business-related activities. Commercial pilots must follow Part 107 guidelines as set out by the FAA. Business operators must follow three steps to qualify as commercial drone pilots.
- Become conversant with the updated rules
- Pass the knowledge test
- Register the UAV with the FAA for commercial use
#1 Learn the rules
It’s critical to know what is and is not allowed as a commercial pilot as per the Part 107 guidelines. They include Operational Limitations, Remote Pilot in Command Certification and Responsibilities, and Aircraft Requirements.
Summary of Operational Limitations
Commercial drones must abide by all the operational limitations outlined below.
- Drone weighs less than 55lbs. (25kg)
- Stay within the pilot’s visual line-of-sight (VLOS)
- Small aircraft must be visible with unaided vision (corrective lenses exempt)
- Daylight-only operations (includes 30 minutes of civil twilight)
- Pilots must always yield right of way to manned aircraft
- Permitted to use visual observer or VO (optional)
- First-person view (FPV) camera cannot satisfy the “see-and-avoid” requirement
- Maximum ground speed must not exceed 100mph (87 knots)
- Maximum altitude must not exceed 400ft above ground level (AGL)
- Drone must remain within 400ft of structure If higher than 400ft
- Minimum 3-mile weather visibility from the control station
- ATC permission required for operations in Class B, C, D, and E airspace
- ATC permission NOT required for operations in Class G airspace
- Pilot of Visual Observers (VO) must only operate one UAV at a time
- Drone operations from moving aircraft are disallowed
- Drone operations from moving vehicles are disallowed except in sparsely populated areas
- Must not partake in careless or reckless operations
- No carriage of hazardous materials allowed
- Remote pilot in command required to carry out pre-flight inspections
- Must not fly with physical or mental conditions that could impair judgment
- Foreign-registered UAVs permitted under part 107 that satisfy part 375 requirements
The aforementioned restrictions are—in most cases—waivable if the applicant can satisfy certain conditions. He or she must prove that their drone operation is safe under the agreed terms of an official Certificate of Waiver.
Summary of Remote Pilot in Command Certification and Responsibilities
Commercial drone pilots must satisfy, agree to, and qualify for:
- Establish a remote pilot-in-command position
- Pilot operating the aircraft must hold a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate
- A qualified pilot must supervise persons without a Remote Pilot Certificate
- Meet all FAA requirements to qualify for a Remote Pilot Certificate
- Part 61 pilot certificate holders can apply for a temporary Remote Pilot Certificate
- Foreign-certificated UAS pilots required to get an FAA-issued Remote Pilot Certificate
Remote pilots in command must be prepared to:
- Make small UAV available to the FAA for inspection upon request
- Report serious injury and property damage > $500 to the FAA within 10 days
- Conduct pre-flight inspections, including system checks
- Ensure aircraft complies with all existing specified registration requirements
Drones used for commercial operations do not need an FAA airworthiness certification. However, it is the sole responsibility of all remote pilots in command to carry out pre-flight checks to ensure the UAV is fit to fly.
#2 Pass the knowledge test
The only way to become an FAA-Certified Drone Pilot is to pass the official Knowledge Test.
To qualify for a first-time Remote Pilot Certificate, applicants must be:
- 16 years of age or older
- Able to speak, read, write, and comprehend spoken English
- Be physically and mentally fit to fly UAS safely
- Pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam
Other procedures for remote pilot certificate eligibility include:
- Review the full Remote Pilot Certificate process
- Study the FAA Test Prep materials
- Obtain an official FAA Tracking Number (FTN)
- Schedule an appointment for taking the Knowledge Test at a recognized test center
- Complete AA Form 8710-13 after passing the test for a remote pilot certificate
#3 Register the UAV with the FAA for commercial use
All commercial pilots must register their UAV online with the FAA. Current drone registration fees are just $5 and remain valid for 36 months (3 years) from the date of registration. The registration process also requires the make and model of your drone. Accepted payment methods are valid debit or credit cards.
To register as a commercial pilot, you must create an account with FAADroneZone. It’s advisable to permanently mark your drone straight after registration to safeguard against theft or loss.
Federal, State, and Local Law Conflicts[edit | edit source]
Federal drone laws may be at odds with rules and regulations set out by county, state, and larger cities. This can confuse both new and experienced UAV pilots. If the state or local rules contradict federal laws, they most likely become invalidated. That’s because the FAA is the designated authority in the USA when it comes to regulating airspace.