FAA Drone Regulations: What You Need to Know Before You Fly

Nearly every day, someone mentions that the FAA drone regulations act is so dense, that they cannot figure out whether the drone they own is commercial or not. And the FAA’s official website isn’t helpful either. 

Sure, if you’re a law buff, you’ll certainly manage to claw your way out of all those circulars, rules, and regulations. But for the rest of the folks, it’s very hard to understand what you can do and what you can’t do while flying a drone. 

But have no fear, because we are here to help you understand everything about the FAA drone regulations act, by breaking down the rules and notices.

What Is a Drone?

What Is a Drone

If we were to apply common sense to this matter, we would be inclined to say that drones or unnamed aerial vehicles (UAVs) are flying gizmos that you pilot around using a remote control and your skill.

Most UAVs can get customization with accessories like cameras, IR sensors, and barometers.

In legal terms, the definition mentioned above amounts to almost nothing, being deemed as incomplete. According to FAA’s regulations, the UAS (unmanned aircraft system) is defined as being an assembly of support equipment like telemetry, navigation, data links, which are required in order to operate an unmanned aircraft.

Thus, an unmanned aircraft is regarded as being the flight component of the UAS system. This can be piloted either from the ground by a pilot via a remote control system or autonomously, using an onboard computer.

As expected, there are legal distinctions between several types of UAs. There are military UAVs, deployed in air-to-ground or ground-to-ground military operations, and civilian UAs, also called model aircraft.

Now this where things become somewhat tricky: the FAA (that’s the Federal Aviation Administration) acknowledges between UAS, used for military and research use, and model aircraft, used for recreational and or hobby purposes.

According to the FAA drone regulations, a model aircraft used for recreational or hobby purposes must fulfill these requirements:

  • It must be capable of sustained flying in the air.
  • It must fly only within the pilot’s line of sight.
  • Must fly only for recreational purposes.
  • Must use all recreational or hobby purposes model aircraft in accordance with the Public Law 112-95, Section 336.

FAA guidelines also include a special section for commercial drones. Which are defined as being UASs used for business or publicity purposes.

Unlike drones used for recreational and hobby purposes that can technically fly without a flight permit, commercial drone pilots require a special non-governmental license in order to operate this type of UAS.

FAA Drone Regulations

FAA Drone Regulations

Although most drones can fly without special FAA permits, there are a couple of mandatory general guidelines:

General Guidelines for Recreational Model Aircrafts:

  • A drone for recreational or hobby purposes must never leave the pilot’s line of sight;
  • A pilot must not direct his drone higher than 400 feet;
  • The owner of the drone must not maneuver the drone over private properties and must not direct the UAS toward people;
  • Never fly your drone within 5 miles of major airports;
  • Pilots must never fly drones if they are under the influence of alcoholic beverages or psychotropic substances;
  • Refrain from flying the drone under adverse weather conditions;
  • Users will not fly their drones over sensitive zones like highways, prisons, or water treatment plants;
  • Pilots should not invade the privacy of other people by taking pictures or videos without their consent;
  • A pilot must register the drone if the aircraft weighs more than 0.55 pounds but less than 55 pounds.

To register a drone used for hobby and recreational purposes, the pilot must be at least 13 years old and must be a legal permanent resident of the United States of America.

As for the actual registration process, it costs around 5 dollars, and the permit is valid for three years.

Here’s what you need in order to register your drone:

  • A valid email address;
  • A registered debit or credit card;
  • Physical address;
  • The registration number of the aircraft.

The pilot can register their UAV by visiting the FAA’s UAS registration section. The registration does not take more than 10 minutes.

As for UASs use for business or advertising purposes, the pilot must fill in quite a lot of paperwork. The first requirements of owning and flying a business drone are to be at least 17 years old.

Also, completing an aeronautical learning course in order to obtain a special FAA UAS operator certificate is mandatory.

According to the FAAs official FAQ section, there are three methods which you can use in order to obtain the operator’s certificate:

  1. The Special Airworthiness Certificate for the Experimental Category, which lets pilots commandeer UASs for research, crew training or market surveys. Note that this category prohibits the user from transporting people or property.
  2. The Special Airworthiness Certificate for a Restricted Category.
  3. The FAA 333 exemption for commercial and low-risk operations.

Other FAA Drone Regulations

Other FAA Drone Regulations

Apart from these major rules, you must stick by before going all Gung Ho into buying a UAS; there are other sides of the story you should consider.

First of all, if you’ve decided into buying and operation a drone used for recreational and hobby purposes, you should know that failure to register your UAS as a hobby aircraft model could attract some nasty fines.

Moreover, when you actually head out to buy the drone, the first thing you must do is to check out the drone’s weight and determine its category. If it weighs more than 0.55 pounds but less than 55 pounds, then you will need to register it.

Additional FAA Drone Regulations:

  • Drone operators must never break eye contact with the drone and must keep a sharp lookout for any manned aircraft. In the case of an imminent collision with an aerial vehicle, the drone’s pilot must be able to steer the drone away.
  • If the UAS is in danger of colliding with an incoming UAV or directly trespasses a property, the pilot should discontinue the flight at once. Failure to do so results in high fines.
  • Before launching the drone into the atmosphere, the pilot must correctly assess the weather conditions. If the weather conditions shift during the flight, the pilot must discontinue the flight in order the ensure the drone’s structural integrity.
  • The pilot must know if there are any airspace restrictions before flying the drone;
  • When flying the drone, the pilot should refrain from piloting the UAS at an altitude higher than 400-500 feet;
  • Don’t fly your drone farther than 300 m;
  • The drone’s speed must not exceed 100 mph;
  • Don’t fly the drone over military installations;
  • Don’t fly your drone within 120 m of an unprotected person;


This is everything you’ll need to know when it comes to FAA drone regulations. Remember that flying a drone is, in some cases, a recreational activity and must be treated like such.

However, this does not exempt you from certain rules created specifically for ensuring flight safety. So, stick by the rules, keep these tips in mind and you won’t have any legal issues when launching your first drone into the air.

Also, if you are a beginner then you will find our guide on how to become a drone pilot very useful. Furthermore, if you have additional questions about drone regulations, you should definitely head on over to FAA’s official website and consult the FAQ section.

Leave a Comment