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Drone Flight Rules: Flying The Right Way

Rules for drones
Jack Brown
Written by Jack Brown

While it’s exciting to fly a drone during your leisure time or for commercial reasons, it is good to appreciate the risks. People around and the surrounding environment can pose some serious issues if you’re not careful or you don’t respect the drone flight rules.

That’s why it is good to learn about some of the rules that have been set up to ensure that you fly your drone safely. There are rules that specify the maximum distance that you can fly your drone, the places that are forbidden for drones just to name a few.

Drone in public

The main authority when it comes to drone flying is the FAA, but there are also various organizations that partnered up with the FAA in order to make sure the sky is still a safe place for everyone. Some of the notable organizations include:

  • the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems, AUVSI
  • the Academy of Model Aeronautics, AMA

These have been instrumental in educating many about the benefits of safe drone flights and some of the rules to abide by while at this. In this article we will discuss some basic and important drone flight rules that will see to it that you fly your drone in a responsible manner.

Rules for Recreational users

There are many small drones that are meant for recreational use and the number of hobby drone pilots is quite significant. These are drones are supposed to be flown by following some specific safety guidelines which have been set up by the congress.

Drones meant for recreational purposes are otherwise known as model aircrafts. As specified by the Special Rule for model aircraft you need to operate your drone by abiding by several requirements which include following a community-based set of safety guidelines as well as by following programming of nationwide community-based organizations for instance the Academy of Model Aeronautics, AMA. If you are an operator who is not operating under the safety program of a given community based organization you are required to instead use the FAA guidelines.

Recreational users

Since last year, 21st Dec. 2015, the FAA set a requirement that all owners of drone categorized as being small unmanned aircrafts, weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds to be registered online before the drone owner can fly them.

Before we look at some of the rules that govern recreational drone use, it is key to define what is meant by recreational use of a drone. In simple terms this refers to the operation of an unmanned aircraft based on personal interests and enjoyment. For instance when you take aerial photos using a drone for your own personal use this would be considered as using it for recreational purposes.

On the other side if you use the drone to take aerial photos of a place with the aim to sell these photos, this would be considered using the drone for commercial purposes. You should check the FAA guidelines to confirm uses of UASs which are considered to be non-hobby, non-recreational or commercial in nature.

Recreational use of drones

Here are some of the safety guidelines for recreational drone use that you should abide by as a recreational drone user:

  • You are supposed to follow community-based safety guidelines that have been developed by organizations such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics, AMA.
  • You need to check that you don’t fly your drone higher than 400 feet and you are also expected to remain below any obstacles if you are in a situation where this is possible.
  • You are supposed to keep your drone within sight at all times. If you have trouble doing you can make use of an observer who might be handy in ensuring this is maintained.
  • You ought to remain clear of and you should not interfere with any manned aircraft operations. It is also recommended that you see and avoid other aircrafts as well as obstacles at all times.
  • You are not supposed to fly knowingly over persons who are unprotected or any moving vehicles and you ought to maintain a distance of more than 25 feet from individuals or properties which are vulnerable.
  • In case you want to fly within a 5 miles distance from an airport or a helicopter, you need to contact the airport and the control tower.
  • You are not supposed to fly your drone in case of adverse weather conditions which include but are not limited to high winds or weather conditions which reduce visibility.
  • You are not supposed to fly your drone when you are under the influence of drugs or alcohols.
  • You need to see to it that your operating environment is safe and that the operator of your drone at any time is competent and proficient in the operations of a given drone.
  • You are not allowed to fly your drone over or near sensitive infrastructure such as power stations, water treatment plants , heavily travelled roadways, government facilities or correctional facilities just to name a few of these.
  • You need to check out and follow the local laws as well as ordinances before you undertake flying over private property.
  • As a recreational drone user you are not supposed to conduct any surveillance or even take photographs of persons in places where you are expected to respect privacy of persons till you obtain their individual permission.

It’s worth noting that in certain areas such as rural and agricultural areas, recreational as well as commercial drone users need to be aware of the possibility of the presence of manned aircrafts which may be operating at low altitudes, close to the ground level.

You need to appreciate the fact that pilots who are conducting agricultural, emergency medicine, law enforcement, firefighting as well as wildlife survey operations are allowed to legally work and operate at low ground levels or more technically correct at low-level airspace.

If you are a recreational or a commercial UASs user you need to be constantly aware of this and you should give way or keep a safe distance from these low-level manned aircrafts.

Rules for commercial drone users

Drones have impacted the commercial world in a new and profound way. Their convenience and suitability in some key commercial ventures such as professional cinematography and photography go without saying.

Their current use follows the FAA authorization of unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) for use in commercial or for business purposes and this is on a case-by-case basis.

Commercial drone users

It is impossible for you to fly your drone for commercial reasons without having obtained an expressed permission from the FAA. You need to confirm with the FAA guidelines to determine what is considered to be a commercial use of a small unmanned aircraft system.

As mentioned in the previous section, commercial drone users who have operating fields in rural or remote areas should keep in mind the possibility of low-level manned aircrafts which could include fixed-wing aircrafts and helicopters. The reason behind this is that there could be pilots who could be conducting agricultural, law enforcement, firefighting or wildlife surveys operations as well as an array of other operations with this being legally for them. You need to be aware and keep a good distance from such manned aircraft systems.

It is good to be aware of what is considered to be commercial use of drones in connection with a business. Here are some of the various situations:

  • You are selling videos or photos taken aerially with the aid of an UAS
  • When you use a drone to provide some contract services such as the inspection of industrial equipment as well as factory equipment.
  • You using UAS to provide professional services such as telecommunication or security services.

There are other examples of commercial use of a drone which include use of drones in providing professional real estate photography during a wedding ceremony, professional cinematography for a film as well as a TV production and providing some contract services for instance land surveys or land mapping.

Commercial drone

In case you are interested in using your UAS for commercial purposes you have a few options as far as the safety regulations are concerned:

  1. You can choose to apply for exemption from the FAA in order for you to operate commercially.
  2. You can also use your drone with an FAA airworthiness certificate as well as operate in pursuant to the FAA regulations.

In both circumstances you ought to have an FAA Certificate of Authorization and Section 333 elaborates on this quite succinctly.

Rules for public entities

UAS are not only used by hobby and commercial drone pilots. Some public entities are also known to have used drones. By public entities we imply the publically funded universities, fire departments, law enforcement as well as other key government agencies. The use of drones by these public entities also follows some safety regulations.

Drone for public entities

Currently they have the option of applying for a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization, COA from the FAA which will then allow them to utilize the convenience offered by small unmanned aircrafts systems in carrying out their functions.

For public entities which plan to use their small UAS in remote or rural areas, the cautions mentioned in the earlier sections apply to them too. It is good to appreciate that these areas could have manned aircrafts which are usually used in a number of activities such as: firefighting, conducting agricultural surveys, in emergency medicine or for wildlife survey operations and these normally operate legally as low-level aircrafts.

It is good for drone pilots of the public entities UASs to be aware of the manned aircrafts and remember to give way and keep a safe distance from them in case they are in sight.

Rule for public entities

It is good to mention the categories of people or institutions which could obtain a COA to operate public UASs:

  • Only government entities are allowed and these include the federal state as well as the state government agencies, the various public colleges & universities, law enforcement agencies just to name a few. These institutions are allowed to have COA for operations of drones in offering their services.
  • In order for you to obtain a COA for a public entity UASs, the public aircraft operations need to be conducted for a governmental function.
  • It is good to note that COAs are normally issued to government entities but these documents are also needed for civil operations.
  • After application, the FAA normally intensely evaluates each of the COA applications to ascertain the safety of the proposal.
  • These COAs are usually issued to cover a specific period of time and in most cases it is for about two years. But at times unique considerations are specified for particular proposals.

The FAA website provides lots of information on the application process for a COA. It is also worth noting that the FAA has taken steps to ensure that the application process is streamlined, this having been done since 2009. On average it takes about 60 days for a COA to be processed but expedited authorization can be offered in case of an emergency or life threatening situation.

In conclusion

Drones or unmanned aircraft systems have had a remarkable impact on the way various people spend their leisure time, how professional cinematography and photography are carried out as well as the provision of various commercial services.

Drone rules

Amidst all these, it is good to appreciate the risks that you can face while using UASs, not only to yourself but to those around you, their property and the various public utilities. For this reason there is a regulatory body to govern the use of drones – the Federal Aviation Association.

The FAA has a set of rules which guide and regulate the use of drones to guarantee the safety of the drone users and those around them. There are some other community based organizations such the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) which act as extensions of the FAA to the various communities of drone users and they normally operate in collaboration with the FAA. It is good to be aware of what governs the use of UAS to ensure that you are safe and that those around you are safe too.

About the author
Jack Brown
Jack Brown

Jack is the Chief Pilot at MyDroneLab.com bringing experience, expertise and knowledge in this quite new industry. He is a graduate of the Drone/UAV Pilot Training Certificate program and member of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. Besides having all the necessary technical knowledge when it comes to drones, Jack and his team love to spend the time outside by the ocean, working on new features and teaching others how to pilot these amazing and exciting new robots.

  • Christopher Mills

    Very correct and complete guide. I think we should all do a bit of reading before putting drones to a test – this way there will be less broken drones. Don’t you agree?

  • I completely agree. Further, we won’t be risking damages to public and private properties too.

  • Frendrick Anderson

    Yes, I definitely agree with the rules for flying drones. Drones are flying machines and not just usual toys. There must be strict rules in order not to be broken other people’s privacy and safety. I have read that there are new anti drone guns that can take down trespassing drones. Although, those guns are usually used by the government

  • John Whitehouse

    I definitely agree with the drone rules and their specifications. Recreational users should have slightly different rules than the commercial users and the public entities.

  • I am glad that you agree 🙂

  • Leo Horfilla

    If you’re a traveling drone enthusiast, it’s better to know the regulations at a local level as they may vary from one place to another. In Europe for example, drone regulations may vary from place to place because unlike the US, EU is not one country.

  • Jack Brown

    Yes, you have a good point there, Leo. It is best to check out the drone rules before going to another country, as they are different. And, as you mentioned, Europe is made of many countries, and they all have different laws, so better to be safe than sorry! 🙂

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