FAA Regulations on Quadcopters

Due to the increase in interest in quadcopters, I often get questions related to FAA regulations.

Questions like:

Are there restrictions with flying my quadcopter in private airspace?
Is it legal to record footage using my quadcopter camera?
Do I need authorization from the FAA to fly my quadcopter?
Where can I fly my quadcopter?

The intention of flying a quadcopter is primarily for fun. Yet having fun, means being safe. And that’s the primary concern that FAA has over personal drones, quadcopters, or multirotor kits right now. As long as you are avoiding any hazardous activities, like flying near airports, people or private property, for the most part you’ll be OK flying your quadcopter. And I say for the most part, because certain public areas will have signs up which forbid flying any quadcopter in the vicinity.

FAAmodelaircraftoperations

Source: http://www.faa.gov/go/uas

Here are the “Dos” and “Donts” of flying a model aircraft taken from the FAA website:

“Dos”

  • Do fly a model aircraft/UAS at the local model aircraft club
  • Do take lessons and learn to fly safely
  • Do contact the airport or control tower when flying within 5 miles of the airport
  • Do fly a model aircraft for personal enjoyment

“Don’ts”

  • Don’t fly near manned aircraft
  • Don’t fly beyond line of sight of the operator
  • Don’t fly an aircraft weighing more than 55 lbs unless it’s certified by an aeromodeling community-based organization
  • Don’t fly contrary to your aeromodeling community-based safety guidelines
  • Don’t fly model aircraft for payment or commercial purposes

Additional Rules:

  • Do not fly above 400 ft.
  • Do not fly above a populated area.
  • Always fly close enough to see your aircraft, maintain a visual line of sight

Interestingly enough, the FAA is prohibiting flying a model aircraft or a quadcopter for commercial purposes. This becomes a fine line, because how do you really tell if someone is flying for pleasure or for commercial purposes, when the penalties are really severe.  A photographer, who was contracted for his services, was fined $10K for operating an aircraft over a university.  And this is happening across all industries.  Likewise the FAA have started to crack down on real estate agents who fly their quadcopters for home listings and farmers who fly their quadcopters for agricultural monitoring.

For personal usage, when recording video using your quadcopter, the right of privacy also comes into play. This applies to when a person, home, or property is filmed. Similar to recording video on the ground, to ‘legally’ use a video or footage recorded from the air, you’ll need consent / a release form for permission. This becomes controversial and a gray area because while some places like the beach are public areas, recording people on that beach may be considered questionable.

As quadcopters become ever more increasingly popular, FAA rulings will continue to evolve.  Congress has charged the FAA to rewrite the drone rules by Sept 2015, however even then, it’d be near impossible to categorize all types of scenarios.  For such example, is it legal to fly near fireworks?

For more information on where to stay abreast of the latest legislation, check out the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) Government Relations Blog.

Remember to fly safe and consider those around you.