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FAA Regulations and Rules For Dummies

In August 2016, the FAA released its guidelines on flying civil and commercial drones. What should have been a moment of clarity for all budding drone pilots and aviation nerds actually led to a bit of head scratching. You see, true to form, the FAA didn’t do a great job at spelling things out for us. It was all ‘Part 107 this and Class G airspace that‘. These terms are fine for those in the industry, but what about those of us that just want to fly a drone on a sunny afternoon?

Hopefully this brief guide to the new FAA regulations and rules will help.

The Aeronautical Knowledge Test

Commercial drone pilots, like those interested in using them for real estate surveying or crop care, must take the Aeronautical Knowledge Test and pass to receive their FAA Airman Certificate. The test is simple, takes around 2 hours, and covers basic aeronautical information and emergency procedures. Luckily, those who plan on  using their drone for hobbyist activities only, like afternoon flying and picture taking, can legally fly today without a certificate.

Here is a FAA article that explains, in detail, the proper way of obtaining your commercial certification. 

Registering your drone

The FAA now requires drones weighing more than .55 pounds to be registered. It costs 5 dollars, and it takes approximately 5 minutes to fill out all your information. Once accepted, you will be e-mailed a registration number – this number is now directly tied to you and your drone.

We recommend writing this number, visibly, on your drone to avoid any kind of hassle. I say this because if your drone is not registered, you could face legal consequences.

To make things easy, the FAA has created an easy-to-read table detailing which drones must be registered, check it out here.

Here is the link to register your drone at the FAA: http://federaldroneregistration.com/

Establishing a visible line of sight

This is a crucial part of safe drone operation. A visible line of sight just means that the drone must always be in clear view of the operator. This ensures that you know where it is, where it is heading and how to bring it back if there is a problem. A clear view means perfect visibility with the naked eye and therefore restricts drone use at dusk and night time. The exception to the rule is if the drone has adequate safety lights installed.

These rules on establishing a line of sight also bring up the issue of height and distance. The FAA have always been keen to restrict the movement of drones in controlled areas, like airspace and private property. With that being said, as a drone pilot, it is your duty to be aware and respectful of these off-limit spaces.

Consequently, please check your local laws pertaining to drone restrictions, as they vary from city to city.

It is important to stay safe 

Safety is the number one concern for the FAA. They don’t want innocent bystanders injured. That is why it is against these FAA rules and regulations to fly directly over people that are not involved, or to fly at speeds higher than 100 MPH.

Also, make sure to steer clear of any nearby airports, as piloting a drone within its 5 mile radius is against the FAA regulations.

This one is a given, but it is also frowned upon to pilot drones while under the influence of alcohol and other mind-altering substances – so drop the controller, stoners!

Not so bad, huh?

Hopefully this clears up some of the confusion about the current rules. These relaxed regulations are not as harsh as they may have seen at first. Once you understand where you stand with your personal drone, you can easily work within the FAA’s expectations. This page will be updated with new rules and regulations periodically. If you have anything to add that I may have missed, please comment below and engage in discussion.

Best wishes,


Nicholas Cross

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