The popularity of drones for both commercial and recreational use has soared over the last decade. Highly maneuverable drones that are capable of lifting multi-pound payloads into the air have been available for about a decade. In that time, the designs and capabilities of these machines have dramatically and rapidly improved. This has led many people to buy their first drone, mostly for recreational use.
While most people will be able to operate typical off-the-shelf drones without having to go through a ton of red tape, the Federal Aviation Administration does put some restrictions even on purely recreational drone use. This means that every drone user, from a high-end commercial photographer to a weekend hobbyist, needs to understand the relevant laws. All FAA regulations are designed to ensure the safety of America’s system of air travel as well as the safety of people on the ground. Failure to adhere to the FAA regulations regarding drones could carry serious consequences, including prison time.
All drones weighing more than .55 pounds must be registered with the FAA. The only exception to this is if the drone is being flown exclusively indoors. All recreational drones must weigh less than 55 pounds. Aircraft above this weight category are in a different classification and require far more extensive licensing.
However, once the drone is registered, it can be flown outside with few limitations. The drone operator is always responsible for ensuring that they are operating more than 5 miles from the nearest airport or control tower. Recreational drone operators must always yield to manned aircraft and must follow all local and state ordinances regarding drone operations.
Using drones for any commercial application involves a more stringent licensing procedure. The operator must have a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate. They must be at least 16 years old, and they have to pass a TSA vetting process. There are also a large number of operational restrictions that include such things as never exceeding 100 mph, always keeping the drone in the operator’s line of sight, only operating during daylight hours, always yielding to manned aircraft and never flying over groups of people.
But commercial drone operators also have some privileges that recreational users do not, the primary one being able to charge for drone-related services. Commercial operators can also fly drones close to active airports so long as the tower is notified of their presence.