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Where Can I Legally Fly a Drone?

Your drone has arrived at your doorstep, and you’re ready to take it out for its first flight. But before you head out the door, it’s important to understand the rules and regulations for flying drones.

You can probably get away with flying your drone at a low altitude in your backyard, but if you want to take your new toy out for a spin in public, you need to know the rules.

Register with the Federal Aviation Administration

If you’re in the U.S., you’ll need to register with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and pay a $5 fee in order to legally fly your drone.

That $5 fee allows you to own and fly as many drones as you want for three years. Your registration will get you an FAA identification number, which you’ll need to display on your drone.

Keep in mind that not all drones need to be registered. If you’re flying a mini drone that weighs less than 8.8 ounces, you don’t have to worry about registering it.

Also, you can’t register a drone that weighs more than 55 pounds through the FAA’s online portal. If you happen to have a drone this heavy (which I doubt you do), you’ll need to file a paper registration application.

2 Legal Ways to Fly Drones in the U.S.

If you plan to fly your drone in public, you’ll need to follow one of two drone laws under the FAA.

Part 107, the Small UAS Rule

If you want the option to fly your drone recreationally or commercially, you can fly under Part 107, the Small UAS Rule. You’ll first need to register your drone, but you’ll also need to obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA (more on that shortly).

Here are the operating rules under Part 107:

  • The drone must be under 55 pounds
  • The drone must be flown within visual line-of-sight
  • Cannot fly in a controlled airspace near airports without permission from the FAA
  • Cannot fly near other aircraft or over people
  • Can only fly during daylight or civil twilight
  • Fly at or below 400 feet

Many of these rules are subject to waiver.

Remote Pilot Certification

In order to obtain your Remote Pilot Certification and fly under Part 107, you must:

  • Be 16 years of age or older
  • Undergo a Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) security screening
  • Pass an aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing center

The test will cover the following subjects:

  • Regulations relating to unmanned aircraft system (UAS) limitations, rating privileges and flight operation
  • Aviation weather sources and effects of weather on UAS
  • Airspace operating and classification requirements, and flight restrictions affecting small UAS
  • Crew resource management
  • Emergency procedures
  • Physiological effects of drugs and alcohol
  • Small UAS loading and performance
  • Maintenance and preflight inspection procedures
  • Determining the performance of small UAS
  • Radio communication procedures
  • Aeronautical design-making and judgment
  • Airport operations

Once you’ve passed the exam, you can complete your application for your certificate online. You’ll need your Test Exam ID for this part.

Section 336, the Special Rule for Model Aircraft

Section 336 laws are for pilots who only want to fly their drones recreationally or for hobby purposes.

You’ll still need to register your drone with the FAA to fly under these laws, but you won’t have to obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA.

Here are the rules under Section 336:

  • The drone must be under 55 pounds, unless it’s certified by a community-based organization
  • Must follow community-based safety guidelines
  • Must fly within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization
  • The drone must be within visual line-of-sight
  • Never fly near another aircraft
  • Never fly near emergency response efforts
  • Must notify the airport and air traffic control tower before flying within 5 miles of an airport

Where to Fly and Where Not to Fly

Now that you understand the drone laws, it’s important to understand where you can and cannot legally fly your drone in the U.S.

Where Not to Fly

The FAA has imposed many types of airspace restrictions that affect UAS flights.

UAS flights are prohibited in:

  • Security Sensitive Airspace. In these areas, UAS are not allowed at any time. Here’s an interactive map of these areas, so you can better plan your flight.
  • Restricted, or Special Use Airspace: Washington DC has the most restricted airspace in the country. You are not allowed to fly your drone anywhere above the nation’s capital. You may not fly your drone in: warning areas, prohibited areas, restricted areas, alert areas, military operation areas and controlled firing areas.
  • Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs): TFRs are certain areas of airspace in which air travel is limited because of a temporary hazardous condition, like a wildfire or a chemical spill. Check this list of active TFRs before your flight to avoid any conflicts.
  • Stadiums and Sporting Events: UAS are not allowed in or around stadiums from one hour before the event until one hour after the event has ended. You can’t fly your drone within a three-nautical-mile radius of a stadium during these times.
  • Airports: You must notify the air traffic control tower (if the airport has one) and the airport operator if you plan to fly your drone within five miles of the airport. Recreational use of drones is usually not permitted around most major airports without coordination and permission.
  • Wildfires: You may not fly your drone in or over a wildfire firefighting operation.
    National Parks: National Parks in the U.S. have banned the use of drones within their confines.

It’s also important to note that some places may be No-Drone Zones, which prohibits the use of drones in these areas for any purpose.

Where to Fly

Where you can and can’t fly your drone will vary from one city and state to the next. But the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) offers more than 2,500 flying sites across the country. Their interactive map allows you to find places to fly your drone safely and legally.

Most of the rules and regulations for drone flying are common sense. Keep your UAS at 400 feet or lower, make sure it’s always within sight and don’t fly in places you’re not supposed to fly.

January 20, 2019

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