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Drone Regulations

I bought my first drone because I wanted to take aerial photos in national parks across the U.S. As it turns out, you can’t do that. I learned my lesson the hard way. And you can bet that I did my research to learn all I could about drone regulations and laws.

You can easily get yourself into trouble if you don’t know the rules.

I encourage you to do your own research, but here’s what the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has to say about drone regulations.

You Must Register Your Drone

Unless you’re flying an indoor mini drone with a camera, you’ll need to register your aircraft. You have two options when registering:

Small UAS Rule (Part 107)

Registering under Part 107 will allow you to use your drone for recreational or commercial purposes.

To register:

You must also provide:

  • A physical address
  • An email address
  • A credit or debit card
  • The make and model of your drone

Registration will cost you $5, but it will be valid for three years. You’ll need to display your registration number on your drone.

In order to earn your Remote Pilot Certificate, you must first pass an exam and meet the following requirements:

  • At least 16 years of age
  • Physically and mentally capable of safely operating a small UAS
  • Pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam at an approved testing center
  • Be able to speak, write and understand English (exceptions may be made for medical reasons, such as a hearing impairment)

The certification is valid for two years, and you must have your certification with you at all times when flying your drone.

Special Rule for Model Aircraft (Section 336)

Drones registered under Section 336 may only be used for hobby or recreation purposes.
To register:

  • Your drone must be under 55 lbs.
  • You must be 13 years of age or older
  • You must be a citizen of the United States or a legal permanent resident

You must also provide:

  • A physical address
  • An email address
  • A credit or debit card

The FAA makes it easy to register your drone online, but getting your Remote Pilot Certificate will require some more time.

You Must Follow Operating Requirements

Registering your drone is just one piece of the puzzle. You also have to know where you can legally fly your drone and the FAA’s operating requirements.

Let’s say that you bought a brand new Skycam HD. You’ve registered it, and you’re ready to take it out for its first flight. You decide to see how high your drone can fly, so you fly it as high as you can – far out of sight. This is a serious no-no.

Under the FAA’s rules, you cannot:

  • Fly your drone higher than 400 feet above the ground
  • Fly faster than 100 mph

You can fly during daylight (30 minutes before official sunrise until 30 minutes after official sunset), but you can’t fly at night unless you have the appropriate anti-collision lighting on your drone.

Some other FAA rules:

  • You cannot fly over individuals or groups of people without their permission.
  • You cannot fly from a moving vehicle unless you’re in a sparsely populated area.
  • You cannot fly under a covered structure or inside a covered stationary vehicle.
  • You cannot fly in a reckless or careless manner.
  • Your drone must always be within sight.
  • You cannot fly over sports stadiums.
  • You cannot fly near other aircraft.
  • You cannot fly in controlled airspace.
  • You cannot fly near airports without permission from the FAA.
  • You cannot fly near emergency response efforts, such as wildfires.
  • You cannot fly while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • You cannot fly your drone in national parks.

You’re allowed to carry an external load (e.g. a camera) as long as it’s securely attached and does not affect the controllability or the flight characteristics of the drone.

Here’s another cool thing that you can do with your drone: transport property. The FAA allows you to transport property for compensation or hire as long as you’re within the state boundaries in which you registered the drone, the aircraft and the cargo weighs less than 55 pounds, and you adhere to all other flight rules.

Specific State Drone Laws

Many states have their own drone laws, and you’ll need to adhere to these rules, too. I recommend doing some research on your state and local laws. I’m going to cover some well-known state laws, but I can’t cover every city in the U.S.


Under Act 293, drones may not be used to invade privacy or for video voyeurism. Act 1019 also prohibits the use of drones for surveillance of “critical infrastructure.”


Under Civil Code Section 1708.8, drones may not be used to record another person without his or her consent.


Under Criminal Code Section 934.50, you may not use drones for surveillance that violates another person’s reasonable expectations of privacy. Police may use drones with a valid search warrant.


Under 20 ILCS 5065, the Unmanned Aerial System Oversight Task Force Act was created, which regulates private and commercial drones. The regulations created by the task force include operational safety, landowners’ rights and privacy rights.


The La. Revised Statutes, section 3.41, et seq. regulates the use of drones for agricultural purposes and requires that operators be licensed and registered. Pilots must renew their license and registration every three years.


Under Sec. 1.25 MRSA Pt. 12, law enforcement agencies must obtain approval before buying drones and must follow the rules for police use. This includes needing a warrant.


Section 14-301 establishes Maryland’s power to create local laws that regulate drone operation.


Oregon’s State Fish and Wildlife Commission prohibits the use of drones for fishing, hunting or trapping animals. It also prohibits the use of drones to interfere with hunters.
Keep in mind that some of these laws may change over time. Some states may also have enacted laws that were not listed here. That’s why it’s so important to research your local laws before taking your drone out.

January 14, 2019


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