Much like the dawn of airplanes over a century ago, many people think of private drones as fun toys or an innovative way to take pictures. Little do they know that there are many rules, regulations and restrictions on flying drones. Shocking, yes, the government has yet another way to tell us what we can and cannot do, but laws on drones make sense. Drones have two classifications, commercial use and personal use.
Drones, UAVs, UAS, and sUAS
The number of terms that are used to describe drones and similar machines can be a confusing bowl of alphabet soup. The terms Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and drone are virtually synonymous; some would argue that a drone is more automated than a UAV, but the terms mean basically the same thing. Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) refers to both a drone and the system used to control it, including the pilot. The FAA defines sUAS as Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, aircraft systems that are used to control droned weighing less than .55lbs.
For the sake of privacy and safety, drone use is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In addition to national regulations, it is also important to check state and local regulations before a drone is flown into the sky. Waiver forms exist for most rules and regulations
- Fly no higher than 400ft.
- Stay clear of manned aircraft.
- Request permission before flying within five miles of an airport or helipad.
- Drones must weigh less than 55lbs.
- Drones may not fly over stadium events capable of seating 30,000 patrons or more.
- Do not fly over sensitive structures, such as infrastructure stations, high-traffic roadways, government installations, or correctional facilities.
- Drones must be in sight of a pilot or observer.
- Remain 25 feet from individuals and vulnerable property. Do not fly over them.
- Do not fly while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Never fly near emergency response teams.
- Do not fly in adverse weather conditions.
- Only fly during daylight hours.
Commercial Drone Regulations
Commercial use of drones is classified as drone operation for financial compensation. The most common ways to make money using a drone are real estate, wedding photography, and land survey. Like must commercial endeavors, additional regulations apply to the commercial use of drones.
- Pilot must hold a “remote pilot airman certificate” or be under the supervision of someone who does.
- Pilot must complete the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) vetting process.
- Pilot must be at least 16 years of age.
- The drone may not exceed 100mph.
- Drones may not be operated from a moving vehicle.
Personal Drone Regulations
Regulation of personal drone use is more relaxed than commercial use. But remember: if a profit is made while operating a drone, it is commercial drone usage. If you use common sense when piloting a personal drone, such as not flying it around large crowds of people, you will probably not have any problems or liability issues. Besides the regulations we have mentioned, there may also be community safety guidelines that apply to your personal drone use – make sure that you identify and follow any such guidelines.
In May of 2017 the law requiring the registration of personal drones weighing more than .55lbs was lifted when it was shown that it violated the FAA Modernization and Reform Act. Although commercial drones must still be registered, personal drones do not currently need to be registered. Despite this, it is still our recommendation that you register your drone if it weighs more than .55lbs. It is likely that the registration law will be reinstated in a new form.
Registering a drone is affordable and can be conveniently carried out online at https://registermyuas.faa.gov/. Once registered, an identification number will be given and placed visibly on the drone. One identification number will be used for any number of drones the user owns.
There are safety guidelines for where a drone can be flown. Some areas, such as the Washington DC No-Fly Zone and the air space standing over national parks, are highly restricted. Be respectful of the no-fly zones. You can find a map of no-fly zones at http://knowbeforeyoufly.org/air-space-map/.
Negligent Use of Drones
The fact that you are flying a machine through the air over houses, people and personal property could lead to liability issues if there is a crash. If you handle your drone carelessly, you could have a potential negligence claim against you if you injure someone or damage property. Other future issues with drone use liability could include nuisance claims against operators violating a person’s privacy.
The technology is already available for future uses of drones including the delivery of packages and fast food as well as farming. The trick will be to involve governmental regulations and infrastructure to catch up with the technology. As with the first uses of airplanes over a century ago, we know it’s just a matter of time before drones become more ingrained with our everyday lives. You can find additional information on drone usage at https://www.faa.gov/uas/getting_started/