Drones aren’t as unregulated in the United States, as we think

Aishwarya Muralidharan, Symbiosis Law School, Pune & formerly intern with Kaden Boriss, India

The Federal Aviation Administration regulates unmanned aircraft systems (drones) in U.S.A. The regulations are uploaded on their official website http://www.faa.gov/uas/

Regulations differ based on the use of the drone.

Drones flown for work/business

If the drones are used for work or business then below are the basic things an operator must know for flying under the small Unmanned Aircraft Systems rule (14 CFR part 107).

Pilot Requirements:

Must be at least 16 years old

Must pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center+

Must be vetted by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) or must get Remote pilot Certificate through an online course provide on https://www.faasafety.gov/

Aircraft Requirements:

Less than 55 lbs.

Must be registered

Operating Rules:

Class G airspace*

Must keep the aircraft in sight (visual line-of-sight)*

Must fly under 400 feet*

Must fly during the day*

Must fly at or below 100 mph*

Must yield right of way to manned aircraft*

Must NOT fly over people*

Must NOT fly from a moving vehicle*

*subject to waiver

Part 107 allows media companies to use an UAS but they must adhere to the requirement given in the same.

In addition to Part 107, the rules given in section 333 that is grant of exemption need to be followed.


Credit: Pixabay.com. Public domain.

Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA) (PDF) grants the Secretary of Transportation the authority to determine whether an airworthiness certificate is required for a UAS to operate safely in the National Airspace System (NAS).

This authority is being leveraged to grant case-by-case authorization for certain unmanned aircraft to perform commercial operations prior to the finalization of the Small UAS Rule, which will be the primary method for authorizing small UAS operations once it is complete.

Once a certificate of waiver can be issued under Section 333 then the certificate holders have to follow requirements established by the Secretary for the safe operation of such aircraft systems in the national airspace system.

If the exemption is not granted by the authority then airworthiness certificate for the aircraft must be obtained.

Part 107 came into effect on August 29th, 2016 and purportedly prevails over the exemptions provided under Section 333. The certificate of waiver issued before this date will be valid till it expires and new certificates will not be issued.

Drones flown for recreation

If the drone is flown for fun then you don’t need permission from the FAA.

Procedures before flying:

Register your UAS if it weighs more than 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds

Label your UAS with your registration number

Read and understand all safety guidelines

Pilot restrictions:

13 years of age or older (if the owner is less than 13 years of age, a person 13 years of age or older must register the small unmanned aircraft)

A U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident*

* Visiting foreign nationals must register their UAS upon arrival in the United States (online registration serves as a certificate of ownership).

Registration requirements:

Email address

Credit or Debit card

Physical address and mailing address (if different from physical address)

Registration costs $5 and is valid for 3 years.

Safety Guidelines

Fly at or below 400 feet

Keep your UAS within sight

Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports

Never fly over groups of people

Never fly over stadiums or sports events

Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires

Never fly under the influence

Be aware of airspace requirements

Airspace Restrictions

There are many types of airspace restrictions in the United States. Below is a list of restrictions that commonly affect UAS flights, including:

Restricted Airspace – The airspace surrounding Washington DC is the most restricted in the country. Flying your drone is illegal in any of the restricted airspace above the Nation’s capital.

The National Capital Region is governed by a Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) within a 30-mile radius of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which restricts all flights in the greater DC area.

The SFRA is divided into a 15-mile radius inner ring and a 30-mile radius outer ring.

Flying an unmanned aircraft within the 15-mile radius inner ring is prohibited without specific FAA authorization.

Flying a UAS for recreational or non-recreational use between 15 and 30 miles from Washington, D.C. is allowed under these operating conditions:

Aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs. (including any attachments such as a camera)

Aircraft must be registered and marked

Fly below 400 ft.

Fly within visual line-of-sight

Fly in clear weather conditions

Never fly near other aircraft

Temporary Flight Restrictions – Temporary restrictions define a certain area of airspace where air travel is limited because of a temporary hazardous condition or special situations and area specific restrictions are given on http://tfr.faa.gov/tfr2/list.html

Stadiums and Sporting Events – Flying UAS in and around stadiums is prohibited starting one hour before and ending one hour after the scheduled time of any of the following events:

Major League Baseball

Major League Football

NCAA Division One Football

Nascar Sprint Cup, Indy Car, and Champ Series races

Specifically, UAS operations are prohibited within a radius of three nautical miles of the stadium or venue.

Wildfires – It is illegal to fly your UAS in or around a wildfire firefighting operation.

Airports – Recreational operators are required to give notice for flights within five miles of an airport to BOTH the airport operator and air traffic control tower, if the airport has a tower. However, recreational operations are not permitted in Class B airspace around most major airports without specific air traffic permission and coordination.

The above is not a comprehensive list as it may differ from state to state and area specific restrictions are given.


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