Before you fly that new drone: know the rules

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With sales of drones expected to approach 700,000 this season, near-misses with military and commercial aircraft have increased. Federal Aviation Administration statistics show a surge in "close call with drone" reports by military and civilian pilots: nearly 700 incidents in 2015, roughly triple the amount recorded in 2014.

The FAA has stated that unmanned aircraft systems are aircraft, not toys, making operators subject to aviation laws and guidelines.

Knowing the laws and basic safety rules is essential, and helps you avoid stiff legal and civil penalties.

First, register your drone (called an Unmanned Aircraft System by the FAA).

As of Dec. 21, 2015, the law requires anyone owning a new UAS weighing between .55 lbs. and 55 lbs. before they fly! "People who previously operated their UAS must register by Feb. 19, 2016. People who do not register could face civil and criminal penalties," according to the FAA.

You can register at Registration is quick and costs $5.

Second, know the basic rules.

The FAA strongly urges individuals flying for hobby or recreation to follow safety guidelines, which include:
· Fly below 400 feet and remain clear of surrounding obstacles
· Keep the aircraft within visual line of sight at all times
· Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations
· Don't fly within 5 miles of an airport unless you contact the airport and control tower before flying
· Don't fly near people or stadiums
· Don't fly an aircraft that weighs more than 55 lbs
· Don't be careless or reckless with your unmanned aircraft - you could be fined for endangering people or other aircraft.

If you fly a UAS within five miles of any military airfield, you must contact Airfield Operations..

The tower watch supervisor will work with individuals to make sure they are flying in an air traffic friendly area. The control tower supervisor may reiterate the FAA rules to the operator, and may ask them for more information, depending on the area that the individual is flying in, such as, a contact number or for a call when UAS flying is complete.

The bottom line: make contact with the installation if you fly a drone within five miles of the base.

Third, service members, employees and family members need to report UASs observed near and above military installations, using the Airfield Operations number for the facility in your area.

UAS's fall into three categories: Public Operations (Government), Civil Operations (Non-government), and Model Aircraft (Hobby or recreation only). The new rules apply to Model Aircraft, which include drones. The distinction is what the individual is using the aircraft for; not what it looks like. Public and Civil Operations are regulated in a different manner and require special approval from the FAA.

Two people could both be flying the same drone in the same location, but if one is flying it for a business then it falls under Civil Operations and different rules apply.

The FAA press release announcing drone registration emphasized that unmanned aircraft owners do not need to work with a "drone registration" company to help file an application for a registration number. "The Registration site is designed to be simple and easy to use for every hobbyist."

After completing registration, owners will receive a personal registration number. If a person owns more than one UAS, each aircraft must be marked with that number. Any method may be used to mark the UAS, as long as the number is legible, according to the FAA. Registrants may put the number in the battery compartment if it is easily accessible.

According to the FAA website, "The statutory parameters of a model aircraft operation are outlined in Section 336 of Public Law 112-95 (the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012). Individuals who fly within the scope of these parameters do not require permission to operate their UAS; any flight outside these parameters (including any non-hobby, non-recreational operation) requires FAA authorization. For example, using a UAS to take photos for your personal use is recreational; using the same device to take photographs or videos for compensation or sale to another individual would be considered a non-recreational operation."

For more information, see the below websites.

FAA frequently asked questions:

FAA link to UAS guidelines: