September 21, 2021

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Can You Legally Fly a Drone Anywhere?

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Drones are an exciting and fun way to get a bird’s eye view of an area. This new hobby has taken off, but as a drone pilot, it’s important to understand where your drone is permitted and where it’s not before you accidentally pilot into troubled skies.

Do You Need Training To Fly a Drone?

There are currently more than 518,000 recreational drones in use in the U.S., according to the FAA. Because drones are considered aircraft, the FAA regulates their use. If you own a drone, you must register it with the FAA.

There is currently no drone pilot license required in the U.S., however, the FAA encourages all recreational drone flyers to take and pass The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) online.

What Are the FAA’s Drone Rules?

The following FAA regulations are in place for drones anywhere in the U.S.:

  • Drones must fly below 400 feet above the ground.
  • Drones cannot fly over moving vehicles.
  • Your drone must be within your line of sight at all times or within that of an observer who is communicating with you.
  • Drones cannot fly over national parks, stadiums or racetracks with ongoing events, military bases, or prisons.
  • Drones can’t interfere with emergency vehicles or manned aircraft and must give way to them.

This last bullet is a primary concern because drones create grave danger when they are near planes. An Envoy Air jet recently hit a drone soon after takeoff at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. If you want to fly a drone near an airport, you must get approval from the FAA, which you can do through apps Aloft and Airmap.

Kenn Honig, president of Critical Incident and Management Training and a former executive with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, told CNBC drones are dangerous near planes because they “could pop up in flight path and the pilot has to take evasive action which could, even if it doesn’t cause a crash, could injure the people aboard the aircraft.”

For airports and all other restricted drone flight areas, the FAA app B4UFLY shows these zones and indicates where you can fly. It’s best to look up your specific location and see if it is in a no-fly zone before you launch.

State and Local Drone Restrictions

The FAA rules apply in every state, but many states and localities have additional restrictions. These laws tend to focus on two issues: privacy and restrictions on state property.

California, for example, prohibits flying a drone over private property to take a photo of a person with their family or while conducting private activities. This is designed to protect celebrities from paparazzi. Drones are forbidden in state park wilderness areas and cultural and nature preserves. Each state park creates its own rules about drones. Localities can also have their own laws, for example, drones are not allowed in any Orange County park.

Florida has a similar privacy drone law as California. Drones are additionally prohibited at state parks unless there are designated runways.

New York requires a permit to operate a drone in a public park. Drones are completely banned in New York City.

Can You Fly Drones Indoors?

There are no laws that restrict flying drones indoors, and it is up to the owner of the building to determine if drones are allowed. However, the Pilot Institute warns that flying indoors is more difficult and is not recommended for recreational users.

Drones can be a captivating technology to enjoy, but it’s important to keep in mind the restrictions and do your research before you launch to be sure you’re flying in a space permitted by federal, state, and local laws.

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