The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules for small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or “drone,” operations cover a broad spectrum of commercial and government uses for drones weighing less than 55 pounds. Highlights of the rule, 14 CFR Part 107, follow.
Just as there are rules of the road when driving a car, there are rules of the sky when operating a drone.
- Always avoid manned aircraft.
- Never operate in a careless or reckless manner.
- Keep your drone within sight. If you use First Person View or similar technology, you must have a visual observer always keep your drone within unaided sight (for example, no binoculars).
- You cannot be a pilot or visual observer for more than one drone operation at a time.
- Do not fly a drone over people unless they are directly participating in the operation.
- Do not operate your drone from a moving vehicle or aircraft unless you are flying your drone over a sparsely populated area and it does not involve the transportation of property for compensation or hire.
You can fly during daylight (30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time) or in twilight if your drone has anti-collision lighting. Minimum weather visibility is three miles from your control station. The maximum allowable altitude is 400 feet above the ground, higher if your drone remains within 400 feet of a structure. Maximum speed is 100 mph (87 knots).
Your drone can carry an external load if it is securely attached and does not adversely affect the flight characteristics or controllability of the aircraft. You also may transport property for compensation or hire within state boundaries provided the drone (including its attached systems), payload, and cargo, weighs less than 55 pounds total and you obey the other flight rules. (Some exceptions apply to Hawaii and the District of Columbia.)
You can request a waiver of most restrictions if you can show your operation will provide a level of safety at least equivalent to the restriction from which you want the waiver. Some of the most requested waivers are for operations beyond visual line of sight, during nighttime, and over people. See FAA DroneZone below for more information on requesting waivers.
Anyone flying under Part 107 has to register each drone they intend to operate. Go to faadronezone.faa.gov. It’s fast, easy, and costs only $5.
When you register your drone, you will receive a registration number that you must put on the drone. You can engrave the number, put it on a permanent label, or use a permanent marker. Remember to carry your registration with you when operating your drone.
To operate the controls of a drone under Part 107, you need a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating, or be under the direct supervision of a person who holds such a certificate.
You must be at least 16 years old to qualify for a remote pilot certificate, and you can obtain it in one of two ways.
- You may pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center.
- If you already have a Part 61 pilot certificate, you must have completed a flight review in the previous 24 months and you must take a small UAS online training course provided by the FAA.
If you have a Part 61 certificate, you will immediately receive a temporary remote pilot certificate when you apply for a permanent certificate. Other applicants will obtain a temporary remote pilot certificate upon successful completion of TSA security vetting. We anticipate we will be able to issue temporary certificates within 10 business days after receiving a completed application.
You are responsible for ensuring a drone is safe before flying, but the FAA does not require small drones to comply with current agency airworthiness standards or obtain aircraft certification. For example, you will have to perform a preflight inspection that includes checking the communications link between the control station and the drone.
If you are acting as pilot in command, you have to comply with several other provisions of Part 107:
- You must make your drone available to the FAA for inspection or testing on request, and you must provide any associated records required to be kept under the rule.
- You must report any operation that results in serious injury, loss of consciousness, or property damage of at least $500 to the FAA within 10 days.
Operations in Class G airspace are allowed without air traffic control (ATC) permission. Operations in Class B, C, D and E airspace need ATC authorization.
The Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC, pronounced “LANCE”) uses desktop and mobile apps designed to support the volume of drone operations with almost real-time airspace authorizations. It is now live at more than 530 FAA ATC facilities covering over 726 airports throughout the country and many authorizations are granted within seconds of being submitted.
Currently, LAANC only applies to FAA ATC facilities and does not yet include contract or Department of Defense ATC facilities. Authorizations for those facilities need to follow the manual process through FAA DroneZone.
DroneZone is a one-stop, online shop for drone registration and for requesting waivers or airspace authorizations (where LAANC is not available). For example, if you want to fly at night, beyond your visual line of sight, over people, or perform other complex actions. Visit the site for more details. The FAA generally responds to waiver requests within 90 days, depending on the complexity of the request.
DroneZone may also be used to file drone accident reports.