Drone Regulations 2018: What You Need to Know

Mar 09, 2018
Drone today fall within a complex area of the law. These unmanned aerial vehicles potentially range in size from exceedingly lightweight toys weighing less than half a pound to large high tech craft used for surveillance missions in combat zones. Consequently, this brief article cannot possibly cover every applicable drone regulation. It will, however, seek to alert you to the most important rules which may pertain if you enjoy flying drones (or if, as a commercial pilot, you want to ensure they operate safely in your vicinity).

Appreciating The Legal Framework

First, it remains important to recognize both the federal government and state governments (in some places) have promulgated rules governing drone safety and operations. Most of these laws seek to prevent tragic air accidents. The Federal Aviation Agency (the "FAA") had assumed much of the responsibility for regulating drone operations. However, other agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, and the Department of Defense, may issue rules from time to time which also impact drone operations. The bottom line: if you plan to operate a drone in a particular air space for any purpose, you carry the responsibility to check into the applicable laws relating to your activities to ensure you comply with federal, state and local rules.

Jonathan Rupprecht, a Florida aviation attorney, has compiled a list of the most important sections of the Code of Federal Regulations which frequently apply to drone operations. His shortlist includes CFR sections Federal Aviation Regulations Part 47, 48, 101, and 107. Additional regulations sometimes pertain.

Key FAA Requirements

Generally, all drones weighing between 0.55 pounds (i.e. more than 250 grams) and 55 pounds require an FAA registration. The rules cover the weight of the vehicle at takeoff and include attachments such as video cameras. These registration provisions apply to most hobbyist and model aircraft drones. Owners of a drone should register and receive a Certificate of Aircraft Registration. Attach an FAA-issued registration ID to your drone (taking this step could help you recover your property if it ever becomes lost). 

Anyone operating a drone covered by the above regulations for commercial purposes must also comply with some additional FAA rules. If you plan to operate your registered 0.55 pound to 55 pound drone in the USA commercially, you must also obtain an applicable FAA unmanned aerial vehicle pilot's license. Obtaining the license typically requires paying a fee and passing a brief FAA test covering Part 107. Commercial use covers any for-profit activities, such as taking photographs of real estate for sale or conducting aerial inspections. 

Some Part 107 Requirements

The Part 107 regulations address most aspects of operating a drone; they seek to ensure public safety. If something strikes you as dangerous to the health of people in the air or on the ground during your operation of a drone, you should consult the rules before proceeding: the activity is likely prohibited. Rule 107 does permit some exemptions to the rules with advanced permission. 

Under most circumstances, drone operators complying with Part 107 must maintain a visual line of sight with their craft at all times. Drone flights can occur only during daylight. Drones cannot fly over people or highways (due to the danger of drones or cameras falling onto unsuspecting members of the public). Drone operators must exercise particular care to avoid airports and air flight paths. Drones must always give aircraft the right of way. Drones cannot exceed 100 m.p.h. in speed or an altitude of 400 feet above ground level.

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