Whether it’s your very first gadget or the latest DJI model, it’s incredibly exciting when you get a new drone. You’ll want to immediately fly your drone in your yard once you rip through the box, but wait! There may be some local no-fly-zones in your neighborhood. So let’s dig into a few US drone laws to keep your excitement as high as you’ll be flying that new drone.
The short answer is yes, you can fly your drone in your yard if you're not in a no-fly zone and not breaking any other rules set by the FAA.
Before you turn on your drone and start zipping around your house, local park, or beach, you’re going to need to brush up on your US Drone Law knowledge. And if you’re considering turning your drone flying into a little side business, it’s imperative that you understand the differences between commercial and hobbyist flying. Rules vary between the two, and special certification may be required.
US Drone Laws: Everything You Need to Know
Flying a drone,” or an “unmanned aircraft system (UAS)” or quadcopter, is legal according to the United States Federal Aviation Authority (FAA). However, there are several rules drone users must follow to avoid trouble. If you’re looking to fly the drone as a hobby, you do NOT need a Remote Pilot Certificate. But you do need to register your machine with the FAA over at the FAADroneZone website.
To register your drone, go to the FAADroneZone website and create an account. After verifying your account, you can register your drone. Complete the form with your full name, phone number, and email address. A $5 registration fee is required and once done, will you be provided with a unique registration number that applies to all unmanned aircraft that you own. The license is valid for three years, after which you can re-register.
Clubs and Organizations
Your drone must weigh less than 55 lbs unless it has been certified by a community-based organization such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA). Follow the safety guidelines for community-based organizations. The AMA website has a safety guidebook on its website which lists the current regulations and safety practices for batteries and propellers.
I highly recommend joining a community-based club. I have been involved with great local groups in San Diego that I’ve found through Facebook. I suggest that you do this too. You meet people who are interested in the same thing that you are (drones!), and you’ll be able to share tips, ask questions, and probably learn a few things too. You can find a local community by searching through the AMA website or by doing a quick “drone club <insert your community>. Don’t see one in your area? How about starting one yourself? If you do, send me an email and I’ll help promote it.
Under US law, you should not fly above 400 feet or near any aircraft or airports. If you think that you may be flying too close to an airport, you can use an app like AirMap to check whether or not your current location is allowed. Drones are prohibited from being flown near any emergency response efforts such as wild or house fires. They’re also banned from being flown in the dark, which means 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset – a period known as Civil Twilight.
When flying, you must avoid doing so under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It is against the law to fly in adverse weather conditions too. This may include rain, high wind, weather with reduced visibility, and during storms. Flying so during these times can be dangerous for anyone or anything nearby, and it will jeopardize the safety of your drone. Don’t do it! Trust me, commercial and hobby pilots don’t fly their planes in such conditions – it’s no different for a UAS (unmanned aircraft system).
It’s also important that you fly with your drone in visual line-of-sight. That means you must be able to see your drone all the times. It helps to prevent any unfortunate “surprises” and also helps with a great landing. In some cases, this can become difficult. An excellent suggestion is calling up a friend to act as an additional observer. Don’t have any friends who are into drones? Ahum- join or start that MeetUp or community club!
One of the most significant rules of flying is that you must not intentionally fly over unprotected people or moving vehicles. You have to be at least 25 feet away from individuals and any valuable property, which includes landmarks. You should avoid flying over stadiums and sports events and important infrastructure, including power stations, government facilities, busy roads, correctional facilities, and water treatment facilities.
Lastly, you must fly solely in Class G airspace. If you need to fly in Class B, C, D or E airspace, you’ll need to apply for LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability. Airspace classes are used to maximize pilot flexibility while also minimizing the risks of flying.
What Is Class G Airspace, and Airspace Class In General?
Glad you asked.
- Class B airspace: space surrounding the busiest airports in the country
- Class C airspace: space surrounding moderate-sized airports
- Class D airspace: space surrounding a smaller airport with a functioning control tower.
- Class E airspace: the space extended from 1,200 feet above ground level and up.
- Class F: not used in the United States (hmmmm)
- Class G: the airspace below 14,500 feet.
Class G airspace is where you should be flying your drone.
We’ve already touched on this a little, but it’s worth noting again. You are prohibited from flying near valuable property and from flying around land or water administered by the National Park Service (NPS). Areas such as Alcatraz Island, Death Valley, Golden Gate, the Mojave Desert, the Appalachian Mountains, Ellis Island, Governors Island, Niagara Falls, the Statue of Liberty, etc. You can view a full list of National Park Service areas over at the NPS website. Ask yourself- do you have to pay money to enter the space? Are tourists flocking from afar to visit? Would Trevor Hall from Let Us Drone avoid this place on weekends because there are too many people? If the answer is yes, then you should probably look into it.
Washington DC, military bases, and other high-security areas are, generally speaking, highly restrictive fly-zones. The United States has Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) where the FAA temporarily restricts flights in specific areas. These typically revolve around events such as Presidential travel, major festivals or events, etc. Before flying, it’s a good idea to check for TFRs either on the FAA website or on apps. My favorite is the FAA’s official B4UFLY app, available on the Google Play and Apple App stores.
So Where Can I Fly My Drone?
Ultimately, you can fly your drone in a field, park, and other large areas where manned aircraft do not regularly pass. Fly your drone in areas that are not vulnerable, landmarks, major events, or with power lines. You can fly in areas where there aren’t large numbers of people or groups. If the weather’s good and your drone is registered, go explore!
Commercial Flying: The Important Rules
What is Commercial Flying?
Commercial flying generally involves people flying to make money by selling photos or videos taken from your drone. Most people who dabble in commercial flying use their drones for professional real estate or wedding photography, cinematography, film or television production, or land surveys and inspections. Just like recreational drones, you are required to register your quadcopter. But you’ll also need to possess a special certificate which allows you to fly commercially.
Remote Pilot Certificate
The rules between commercial and hobbyist drone flying are pretty different. Anyone looking to fly for commercial reasons must possess a Remote Pilot Certificate issued by the FAA. To be eligible for a Remote Pilot Certificate, you must:
- be at least 16-years-old
- be able to read, write, speak, and understand English
- be in a proper physical and mental condition to fly safely in the United States.
- pass the Knowledge Test. These tests can be taken at FAA-approved Knowledge Testing Centers.
Once you pass the test, you need to complete an FAA Form 8710-13, and then you’ll be granted your certificate. Certificate holders must pass the Knowledge Test every two years to keep up with safety regulations.
Check out this Ultimate Guide to Getting a Part 107 Drone License that we wrote on the subject.
Hobby and Commercial Flying Similarities
Your drone must also be registered with the FAA, similarly to hobbyist flying. And like hobbyist flying, the drone must weigh under 55 lbs and be flown in Class G airspace. Flying during daylight or twilight (30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset) is also required for commercial flying, as well as the drone being flown under or at 100 mph. A commercial drone cannot be flown from a moving aircraft or vehicle.
Following The Rules
If you follow all of the laws and have your drone registered, you’ll have no issues flying. Keep updated on all new Temporary Flight Restrictions, and check your local weather reports to prevent unfortunate and preventable incidents while flying. Ultimately, flying your drone in the United States is easy, permitting you to understand the rules required and follow them accordingly.