Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) such as Drones and other remote-controlled aircraft, may be thought of as just fun and harmless toys, however, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has other thoughts. Since the explosion of consumer drone purchases in the last few years, the FAA has developed or recently changed numerous regulations that limit and control what drone and UAV owners are allowed to do to keep their operation fun and safe for all those involved.
To know exactly which of the regulations apply, it needs to be determined how the drone is being used. There are differences in the FAA regulations whether the drone is being used for recreational use or for commercial use, such as in aerial photography. If the drone is only used for fun and recreation, there are less strict requirements. Drone use in a commercial venture that makes money will require that the operator pass an FAA test and receive a special pilot certification.
No matter how the drone is being used, it must be registered with the FAA if the drone weighs more than 0.55 pounds (250g), which many consumer models do. The cost is only five dollars and covers the drone registration for 3 years. Upon registering, an FAA identification number will be assigned, which will need to be placed on the exterior of the drone.
It is very important to carry proof of the registration when using the drone as the registration document must be shown immediately to any law enforcement personnel when requested.
Below is a list of the most important FAA regulations to follow when operating a drone in the U.S. In addition to the federal regulations, most states and even some municipalities have passed drone regulations on their own. If using a drone on vacation in another country, they will likely have specific regulations depending on their airspace mapping. The general rule of thumb is to know and follow all of the regulations where the drone will be operated.
Visual line of sight rule’. This regulation mandates that all drone operators must keep the drone within eyesight at all times or within the line-of-sight of an observer that is in direct communication with the drone operator if operating in tandem.
The drone must be operated below 400 feet in and remain in “Class G” airspace. This the airspace where the FAA is not controlling manned air traffic. Authorization will need to be approved to operate in Class B, C, D or E controlled airspace or other restricted airspaces.
Operation of a drone is typically not allowed within five miles of any airport. Even outside of that range, you cannot interfere with any manned aircraft at any point on its flight path.
Operation is prohibited over any large groups of people such as over stadiums, other sporting events, outdoor festivals and large public events or during law enforcement or emergency response events such as fires or vehicle accidents.
And as in operating any other vehicle, do not operate the drone under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The FAA has a new mobile app called B4UFLY and many drones have apps that together provide information to help identify the flight elevation, local airspace maps and current restricted zones to keep the drone operator within the regulations.
Commercial Use Pilot Certificate
In addition to the above regulations, a Remote Pilot Certificate issued by the FAA must be obtained to operate a drone for commercial purposes. The general requirements for obtaining the certificate are:
Must be at least 16 years old, be in a physical and mental condition to safely operate the drone and be able to read, speak, write, and understand English.
Must pass a Part 107 Aeronautical Knowledge Test from an FAA-approved knowledge testing center and must pass a security screening from the TSA, which will be initiated upon applying for the certificate.
Once you have your Remote Pilot Certificate, your license will need to be kept up to date by passing the FAA aeronautical knowledge test every 24 months. You will also be required to make the drone available to the FAA for inspection or testing, if requested, report any accidents to the FAA that results in injury or property damage over $500 within 10 days and to conduct and document preflight inspections to ensure the drone is safe for each operation.
The FAA tries to do their best to educate the public and create the proper awareness about the regulations for drone use, however, violations of any of the FAA drone regulations can result in a warning letter, suspension/revocation of a license, denial of an application for the pilot’s certificate, and fines and up to prison sentences for criminal convictions.
The main regulations that the FAA deals with the most are the failure to register the drone, using the drone in a commercial manner without obtaining the pilot’s certificate, unsafe operations and using the drone in restricted airspace.
Penalties could result in fines of up to $32,666 per incident or up to $250,000 and/or a prison sentence of up to three years if prosecuted on criminal charges.
While failing to register the drone or obtain the pilot’s license are usually treated as minor offenses, the FAA considers violations of restricted airspace to be a serious offense. Flying a drone in critical areas such as around airports, where the potential exists to disrupt or even collide with commercial aircraft, could be considered an act of terrorism and result in significantly longer prison sentences.
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