Are Drones Legal in the US?

Last updated November 13th, 2019
An aerial shot of New York taken on a drone

There are almost 1.3 million registered drones in the United States of America, and more than 116,000 registered drone operators. There is also likely to be a huge number of unregistered zones in the country and all these add to the recognized need for drone regulations.

Drone regulations keep us safe, while we try to make sense of the growing phenomenon that is taking over airspaces around the world.

Incidents in the past bring this need into sharp focus.

For example, in 2013, a drone flying over Manhattan crashed into several buildings before finally crashing into the pavement.

Reports over the next few days following the incident said that the pilot ended up being charged with reckless endangerment. He was fined $2,200 by the FAA for “flying in restricted airspace without getting permission from controllers and flying in a careless and reckless manner” and also for having “endangered the safety of the national airspace system”.

The 2013 incident was the very first attempt by the FAA to penalize a non-commercial flight. 

Another drone related incident in 2015, where a pilot flew his drone into White House property raised national awareness on the issue of restricted areas.

Both episodes clearly highlight the harm that could come from the unregulated use of drones.

Drone Laws in the United States of America

Flying drones is legal in the United States of America. But to save yourself from incurring hefty fines and/or imprisonment, you want to take note of the following drone regulations:

General Drone Laws for Flying in the USA

When flying your drone in the US, there are some general laws you should keep in mind. Mind you that each state in the US may have additional drone regulations to take note of, so it is always good practice to check with the local authorities before flying your drone.

Drone Laws for Recreational Flying

  • You must fly only for fun and recreation (no side jobs or in-kind work using your drone is permitted).
  • You must register your drone with the FAA. You can use the FAA DroneZone website.
  • You must keep your drone in your line of sight at all times when flying it.
  • You must adhere to community-based safety guidelines and fly within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization like the AMA.
  • The drone you fly must weigh less than 55 lbs. unless it is certified by a community-based organization.
  • You may not fly your drone near other aircrafts.
  • You must never fly your drone near emergency response efforts.
  • You must fly in Class G airspace. To fly in Class B, C, D, or E controlled airspace; you would need to apply for airspace authorization or Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) authorization.

Drone Laws for Commercial Flying

  • You must have obtained a Remote Pilot Certificate issued by the FAA in order to fly your drone commercially.
  • You must register your drone with the FAA. You can register through the FAA DroneZone website.
  • Your UAV must weigh less than 55 pounds at takeoff. This includes the payload.
  • You must fly in Class G airspace. If you intend to fly in other controlled airspaces (B, C, D, or E) then you need to get a Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) authorization.
  • While flying your drone, you must keep it  within visual line of sight at all times. *
  • You must fly your drone no higher than 400 feet above the ground.
  • You can only fly your drone during daylight. *
  • You may not fly your drone at speeds exceeding 100 mph. *
  • You must yield right of way to manned aircraft. *
  • You are not permitted to fly over people. *
  • You cannot fly from a moving vehicle, except when in sparsely populated areas.

*The above restrictions can be waived if you submit and receive a Part 107 waiver from the FAA.

Once again, we acknowledge that these laws are subject to change as regulations evolve to keep up with the rapid pace of drone technology. We provide these regulations with the understanding that we are neither drone regulators nor drone experts.

To find out more about drone regulations in the USA, check out this section of the FAA website.

How to Get Remote Pilot Certification in the US

You require the following in order to obtain a Remote Pilot Certification from the FAA:

  • You must be able to read, speak, and write English (exceptions may be granted of people who are unable due to medical reasons like hearing impairments).
  • You must be physically and mentally capable of safely operating a small drone.
  • You must be at least 16 years old.
  • You must pass an Aeronautical Knowledge Test—known as the Part 107 test—at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center.
  • You must go through a TSA security screening session.

For more information on how to obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate in the US, check this section of the FAA’s website.

Special Travel Considerations

Foreign-based pilots looking to travel to the US with their drones in order to fly them need to take note of the following:

  • You must register your drone, whether you intend flying your drone recreationally or commercially. You can register through the Federal Aviation Authority DroneZone portal.
  • If you intend to fly your drone for fun or recreationally, there are rules which you must comply with (listed above).
  • If you intend to fly your drone commercially, you must obtain a certificate from the FAA and follow the rules of commercial flying.
  • When travelling within the US with your drone, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) permits you to travel with your drone provided you bring it in carry-on luggage only. You may not pack your drone in checked luggage. For more information regarding travelling within the US with a drone, check this section of the TSA website.

You can contact the FAA directly with any questions you have concerning travelling with your drone.

Please note, all of this information has been provided for educational purposes only. It should not be taken as legal advice. Always do further research if any of the above applies to you.

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