Rules and Regulations for Flying UAVs

Flying drones is no longer the next big thing – it is the current big thing! Everyone with any interest in tech/photography wants one. Everyone who has never been interested in tech/photography wants one. They are the coolest of the cool – and the hottest tech in the world right now.

Flying drones and taking pictures and recording video is truly booming in popularity. For the amateur, not only is flying drones exciting and new, they have also taken what an amateur can accomplish and produce to a whole other new level. What an amateur can do these days was previously reserved for professional photographers and filmmakers. The technological equipment the professionals used cost thousands and thousands of dollars. The shots they captured wowed audiences worldwide in print and on film. So spectacular, and such a breath-taking perspective on the world that the human eye alone simply cannot reach.

What would a modern masterpiece of a film be without a swooping drone shot across some barren highland or another?! Film audiences amazed, thinking that the hundred-million-dollar budget was well spent. I mean, look at that shot… from the sky! It looks amazing! How did they do that? What must that have cost? Sometimes, it is this cinematography which stays in the mind of the viewer longer than the story or the characters

Flying Drones – Into the hands of everyday people

The more technical name for what we now commonly refer to as a drone, is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).

The first pilotless vehicles were launched as far back as World War One. They were launched to the sky by catapult or flow via radio control. Their development continued in the years between the World Wars. However their refinement and mass usage was not implemented until the Vietnam War some years later. They were used for launching missiles, acting as a decoy, and for dropping propaganda leaflets into built up areas. Since the Vietnam War, the flying of drones by other nations has increased exponentially along with rapid technological development.

Yes, historically, UAVs have, on the main, been used during war and conflicts. However, in the last decade, there has been tremendous innovation and technological advancements which now mean anyone can fly drones.

Huge corporations are trialling making deliveries of their products using drones. Thousands of deliveries being made by companies with giant customer bases, and, a rising citizen population taking to the skies. Picture that scene in your mind’s eye for a moment. Welcome to what used to be the future – this is our new, current reality.

Safety must come first

With that picture in your mind of all those flying drones – just think about the chaos that could ensue if such activity was not correctly regulated. Most modern flying drones are becoming increasingly lightweight. Yet, if one falls from great heights and hits someone on the head – major injury would ensue. There must be rules and regulations in place for usage. Nobody wants to see any accidents and injuries – that is the primary concern. Flying drones is a wonderful opportunity for the everyday person, but not something to be taken lightly by anyone. We all want to have this opportunity in the long-term. If that means registering as a pilot, and adhering to regulations – that is not an unreasobale price to pay.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, are commonly known as drones. In recent years they have exploded in popularity to the point that they have been a relatively common sight. In fact, IBM had programmed drones for use during Lady Gaga’s halftime show during the 2017 Super Bowl. Many regular consumers have decided to fly drones as a recreational past time. They are often used for filming panoramic scenes or just to fly for fun.

However, the growing popularity of drones has made them a new target for government regulations. Especially with regards to privacy and where they may be flown. As a result, there are many different considerations you must take into account before getting into this new hobby. The following will be an introduction into these regulations plus considerations for registering your new drone.

Drone Specifics

To start, we must look at the size restrictions that the FAA places on drones. When you fly drones, you have to make sure that the drone falls within the specified guidelines. You should also be aware that the drone will be subject to local regulations as well. These will vary by state and city.

Size Restrictions

The FAA is fairly lenient when it comes to the actual size of the drone. Regulations specify that the aircraft cannot weigh over 55 lbs. However, most consumer drones weigh well below that standard. Especially newer models that were produced after the regulations went into effect. However, federal aviation weight limits are for the entire unmanned aircraft system, which takes all components into consideration. That means you should take the controller and additional drone accessories as part of the overall weight.

Operational Requirements

In order to fly drones you must notify all airports within a 5 mile radius. The guidelines specify that you must notify not only the airport, but also the air traffic control tower as well. That ensures that any radar that picks up your drone will not be alerted to an unidentified flying object. When flying outside the radius, you must be aware if your flight path enters a five mile radius of an airport.

One of the most important rules that fall under federal guidelines has to do with other vehicles that are flying. The federal guidelines specify that you must always yield the right of way to any manned aircraft. This includes helicopters and airplanes. More specifically, this means that you have to land as soon as a manned aircraft comes into view. In order to ensure the safety of both the crew of the airline and yourself.

Finally, another major FAA rule states that you must keep the drone in sight at all times. That means you should always fly the drone in your own visual radius. In other words, if the drone has a camera, you still need to keep the drone within sight. You cannot fly drones navigating by camera because when the aircraft leaves your view it is violating the regulations. This is very important to keep in mind.

Other Flight Regulations

There are also specific regulations to how you fly your drone. These regulations are particularly important when it comes to flying around people and buildings. Violation of any rules that are in place will be subject to a fine. In addition to fines, you might also be subject to legal action or civil suit. Potentially as a result of causing any injury or property damage.

First of all, you are limited to flying only 400 feet above the ground. Many commercial drones will probably lose power before reaching that height. But just in case you should keep the drone close to the point where you are controlling it from. Your drone might not come with an altimeter that measures the distance to the ground. You should always keep it close to you.

UAVs should also be kept away from buildings and stadiums. In fact, you can be subject to additional legal action from the event owners. That is, if you are flying over a sporting event because you are illegally filming a commercial event. It is also a safety issue, as a drone crash in a crowded area can be extremely dangerous.

Additional Considerations

In addition to the rules mentioned above, you should also take any community rules or guidelines into account. Because of their rising popularity and various safety incidents regarding drones, many states and even cities have begun enacting their own drone policy. Some of these policies have been in place since before the FAA created its rules last year, which means that they can be even stricter than the FAA guidelines. However, the FAA guidelines take precedent over and local law. For example, if the local law allows your UAS to be 60 pounds, you should still follow the federal guideline of 55 lbs.

As part of the above regulations, you should always be wary when flying over private property or other people, regardless of official aviation rules. This is because there are many complex measures that are in place and privacy laws can be construed to include drones. So, for example, when you use a drone to fly over a neighbor’s yard, your neighbor might consider that an invasion of his or her privacy and seek legal action as a result.

User Regulations

Aside from regulations pertaining to the operation and size of the drone itself, you should also be aware of user regulations that are part of FAA rules. For recreational flying, these rules are lenient and normally only require registering your vehicle. According to the FAA rules, any vehicle that weighs more than 0.55 pounds should be registered with the proper authority.

Registration has been implemented as a result of various crashes and pilots violating the above rules that had been in place since before UAS regulation went into effect last year. The registration ensures that a pilot is held accountable for any accidents, and if you are not registered to the FAA, you should be subject to strict penalties that can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Criminal action may make you subject to fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The following is how you can register for recreational drone use.

Basic Registration

The basic registration process for drones pertains to those unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) that are above 0.55 pounds (250 grams) and below 55 pounds (25 kilograms). When your drone falls within this weight range it absolutely must be registered without exception. If you fly drones this size without registering them, then you are subject to the aforementioned penalties as well as other possible criminal prosecution.

If your drone is below the weight limit stated above, you will not have to register at all. However, you should be aware of any other regulations despite the smaller size drone because they will still apply. The only rule that does not apply is the need to register.

Registration for drones that fall within this weight limit is relatively simple and easy to do. It requires going to the FAA website and registering with their easy to use online form. Following registration, you will be given an account and a registration number. Overall, the registration process will cost $5.

Once you are registered, you will need to associate your drone with your registration number in the same website. If you have more than one drone that is in the weight limit, then you need to register all of those drones. You can register an unlimited number of drones as long as they fall within the weight limit and they are safe to use. The registration fee will cover all drones that you register, so you only need to pay it once.

Registration recordkeeping

Finally, you will be able to print out a Certificate of Aircraft Registration. This must be in your possession at all times when you are using your drone. Additionally, you should provide a copy of this certificate to anyone who is using or borrowing your drone. However, if you are not around while your friend is using the drone, then you may be subject to further inquiries in order to ensure that you gave permission to fly the aircraft.

The registration number that is associated with your drone must be written on the drone as well. You should use a permanent method of application so as to ensure that the number stays on during flights. You can use any method otherwise. The FAA recommends using a label or an engraving on the drone to make sure it stays on. It can also be written on or in any of the detachable compartments of the drone as long as that compartment is readily accessible during an inspection.

The personal data that you provide to register will only include your name, address, e-mail, and a few other things. However, all of this data is strictly confidential and will not be shared with any third parties. It remains strictly for FAA use only.

You should note that you need to provide model information when you register the vehicle. However, sometimes your model will not be available. If this is the case, then you should provide specifics such as the name of the manufacturer, the model number, and the serial number, as well as distinguishing information such as the color, size, and any features.

Registration for Overweight Vehicles

Any drones that have a weight that is above the previously mentioned weight limit must be registered according to a process that is different from those that fall within the limit. For the FAA, this is known as traditional aircraft registration and qualifies your drone as an actual unmanned aircraft, rather than a small unmanned aircraft system.

In this case, you must download the paper Aircraft Registration Application that is available on the FAA website and send it in to the FAA via mail. You must have the entire registration process completed before you are able to fly your vehicle, and if you fly drones without having this registration you can be subject to even steeper penalties than those that are given for smaller unregistered vehicles. It is important as well that you are aware of limitations for local law enforcement, as you will be subject to their own penalties regardless of FAA regulations.

Flying Drones for Business

When you fly drones for business purposes you are subject to a different set of rules than those that are available for recreational users. Examples of business purposes may not be obvious, but include things such as photography services or surveying property and inspection. So, for example, a user who wants to use their drone for filming a wedding must have a commercial use registration for that drone. Likewise, if you are doing a roof inspection before repairs, or you are surveying property for real estate, you are also subject to these rules.

Pilot Requirements

As opposed to recreational use, if you fly drones for commercial use you must fall within the pilot requirements for a remote aircraft pilot. That means you have to gain a remote pilot airman certificate, you must be 16 years old or older, and you have to pass TSA vetting. All of this registration will take time and you will not be able to fly your drone until it is completed.

In order to register to become a remote pilot airman, you have to study and pass the remote pilot knowledge test. That means you have to study the information the FAA provides on their website, complete with study guides and test instructions. These are all important to make sure you know how to fly your vehicle and safely operate it in airspace. Additionally, you have to be in a good physical and mental condition to be able to fly drones safely without risking the health of yourself or others.

The certificate will be granted after taking the aforementioned test in an FAA-approved testing facility. After gaining the certificate, you must always keep it on you while flying the drone. It should also be noted that the certificate is only valid for two years. After those two years, you must take another knowledge test to make sure you still fall within the requirements.

The knowledge requires a general knowledge of aircraft as well as specific operations that are provided in the study materials. Most of all, there are several procedures regarding inspection and communication that must be followed while operating the vehicle.

Requirements for the Aircraft

The aircraft itself is subject to many size restrictions when it is used for commercial purposes. These restrictions will be learned further when you are in testing for your pilot certificate. These requirements do not have exceptions or waivers.

First of all, the size of the aircraft must be less than 55 pounds and registered online if it is over 0.55 pounds. You should note that any cargo that the drone has while flying will be taken into consideration for these size restrictions. In addition, you have to do a pre-flight check that makes sure all components of the unmanned aircraft system are operational and safe for operation. The pre-flight check is a departure from the recreational flying aircraft because it is necessary for anyone with a pilot certificate.

Finally, those aircraft that weigh more than 55 pounds will require the user to acquire the adequate registration, as previously stated.

Rules of Operation

Most like recreation flying, flying drones commercially is subject to many operational rules that you have to follow while flying. They are generally stricter than those rules for recreational users, given the fact that commercial pilots subject to more regulations.

First of all, like with recreational users you must always keep the aircraft in sight and under 400 feet. You also need to yield the right of way for any manned aircraft, and land if there are manned aircraft in the immediate area. These rules may be waived, which is different from the rules of recreational users.

In addition to the above three rules, there are other more specific rules for those with a pilot certification. First of all, the drone should only be flown during the day, which is specified as the hours during which there is enough light for optimal visibility. The drone can only fly at or below 100 miles per hour.

Finally, you cannot fly your drone from a moving vehicle. That means the vehicle you are flying the drone from must be stationary. In addition, if you are flying from a vehicle you should be aware of the fact that your drone is supposed to stay within your field of view at all times, no matter if it has a camera attached or not.

Notification does still need to be made to airports within a 5 mile radius, but your drones must also be subject to those regulations that are under Class G Airspace. This class pertains to any flights that take place below 1,200 feet above the ground and, currently, have very few regulations for monitoring.

Waiving the Rules

Unlike with recreational users you can apply for a waiver for each restriction as long as you demonstrate competence while flying the vehicle and the vehicle meets certain safety standards. An important rule that you will probably want to apply for waiving would be the rule that you absolutely cannot fly over people. This would be complicated if your job requires you to film crowded areas such as parties or events. In this case, you need to be waived and prove that your vehicle is safe to fly over people without crashing or running out of batteries.

Obtaining a Waiver

As previously stated, all operators that use their aircraft for commercial purposes are subject to the small unmanned aircraft system rule known as Part 107. These rules have all been covered, but you are able to obtain a waiver for any of these requirements granted your vehicle can pass inspection and you are judged as competent by the adequate authorities. The processing time for these waivers may vary, but they can take up to 90 days. They may also have additional requirements and safety regulations that come as part of the privileges granted by the waiver.

Applying for the waiver is easy and relatively straightforward. It is done online by the person who is responsible for the vehicle and with the adequate information. The online form can be used for more than one exemption, and the form allows you to pick more than one exemption at a time. However, there are separate waivers for each exemption. In addition, you may also acquire a specific authorization for flying within certain airspace using the same process.

Things to Remember

It does not matter if you are flying drones for recreation or for commercial reasons, you should always keep the basic rules of common sense in mind. The growing popularity of drones means that there is more opportunity for incidents and accidents when amateur users try to fly drones. You should always keep aware of your surroundings when you decide to fly drones.

All of the above information is the most recent regulation from the FAA as of last year; however as drones get more popular it is possible that these regulations must change. In addition, local governments may change their stance on drones depending on how constituents respond to incidents. For example, San Diego has recently passed legislation and other major metropolitan cities are considering legislation.

Therefore, you should always keep safety in mind and be respectful of others when you are flying an unmanned aircraft. You should always keep a copy of FAA rules on you as well as any certification in case of any potential mishap or conflict while you fly drones. That way, you can always ensure the safety of others as well as defend yourself in case of a potential argument.