The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) enforces the hobby drone flying regulations in the United States of America. This federal agency regulates and enforces American airspace. There are two classifications under which hobby drones may fly. The first classification is “model aircraft” and the second is “small UAS.” The differentiator here is how you want to fly your UAV: hobby or commercial.
The rules of UAV flying are simple. In fact, the FAA enforces these rules to protect US airspace so it’s safe for all to enjoy.
Getting started: Registration of Your UAV with the Federal Aviation Administration
Let’s start the discussion of flying your hobby drone in the USA with a look at how to get started. In fact, if you’re flying a drone in US airspace, you must register with the FAA.
Federal law requires to you fork over $5 to register your UAV with the FAA. Whether you’re registering your UAV as a hobby drone or for commercial use, you can get started here: FAA – Register Your UAS.
The rules of registration are simple:
- Your personal drone must weigh in under 55 pounds.
- The registrant must be at least 13 years old.
- A registrant must be a resident or permanent resident of the United States of America. If you don’t meet one of these criteria, you’re considered a foreign aircraft in US airspace. Of course, you can still seek permission to pilot your drone in the USA, but you’ll follow a completely different registration process.
- You must have a valid mailing address in the United States and an email address.
- You must have a valid credit card or debit card to complete the registration payment.
After you have registered your drone for US flying, you must mark your drone with the registration number. Once you’ve completed these two easy steps, you’re ready to fly!
Model Drone vs. Small UAS Rule: What is the difference?
Whether you’ll be classified as a small UAS or a hobby drone by the FAA boils down to one thing–how you’ll use your drone. If you own a drone under 55 pounds, you’ll register under one of these classifications. The type of registration you’re applying for is the only choice.
If you pilot your UAV for recreational or hobby purposes only, you’re flying a model drone. On the other hand, if you fly sometimes for recreation and sometimes for commercial use, you’re flying a Small UAS.
Here’s an illustration.
You purchased your first UAV because you find piloting drones a relaxing way to spend time with the family. You fly and maybe take a photo or two to enjoy for your own use and maybe to share aerial views of your home on social media. That is a “model drone” because it’s strictly recreational use.
Let’s say your friends loved the aerial photo of your house on social media. Everyone asks you to take photos of their homes and they offer to pay you for the time and effort. You accept and start a little side hustle making a few bucks a weekend taking home photos. You crossed the line into a commercial business and now the FAA considers you the pilot of a “Small UAS.”
Do you see the difference? This doesn’t mean that you can’t have a commercial business taking UAV photos; it means that you’d need to change your registration status with the federal authorities.
Model Drone Flying Regulations in the United States:
If you’ve determined that you’re piloting your UAV under the “Model Drone” use, follow these rules.
- As previously mentioned, you must register your model aircraft.
- You can only fly a UAV up to 55 pounds.
- A drone pilot must maintain visual contact with your UAV at all times. This means you must keep your eye on your drone at all times.
- You cannot fly your UAV near other aircraft.
- Avoid flying around first responders or emergency response teams. Your drone can distract emergency workers from their task at hand.
- Be sure to follow any community-based safety rules in your area.
- If you plan to fly your UAV within 5 miles of any airport, you must communicate your intent with airport authorities and the flight control tower. Of course, your cooperation will help to ensure the safety of people onboard commercial or private airplanes.
USA Rules for Piloting a Small UAS
If you’ve decided that you will be using your drone for small business purposes, follow these rules.
- Of course, you will register your drone with the Federal Aviation Authority before flying.
- You may only pilot a drone of up to 55 pounds.
- Pilot your drone only during daylight hours.
- You can only fly your UAV at an altitude of 400 feet or less.
- Avoid flying near other aircraft. It can be distracting and confusing to other pilots.
- Don’t fly your drone over people.
- Stay in direct line of vision with your drone. As in the “model drone” section, you must keep your eyes on your drone.
- You must receive permission to pilot your drone in the protected airspace around airports.
- Finally, one rule that’s different from the “Model Drone” rules: you must apply to the FAA for a Remote Pilot License.
For some of these rules, you may apply for a Waiver under special circumstances. However, apply early as a waiver can take up to 90 days to hear back on the FAA’s decision. In addition, you must demonstrate that the waiver won’t harm any person or property. You can request a waiver online: Part 107 Waiver.
The FAA enforces these hobby drone flying regulations in the USA to keep everyone safe. Their responsibility for the safety of airplanes in the sky, passengers of commercial flights, people on the ground, and UAV pilots themselves is an enormous undertaking.
But the truth is, you are ultimately responsible for your own safety. In addition, you must ensure the safety of those on the ground and in the air when you’re piloting your drone. Flying responsibly and following these rules will ensure that both pilots and observers will have a good time flying drones.