US Drone Law
Cutting Edge Legal Analysis for
Cutting Edge Drone Technology
US Drone Law is not a law firm. The contents of this site do not represent legal advice and are for informational purposes only.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, a model aircraft is essentially a drone flown for hobby or recreational purposes. Federal law defines an unmanned aircraft (sometimes simply called an UA) as “an aircraft that is operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft.” (Public Law 112-95, Section 331(8)). Federal law defines “model aircraft” as unmanned aircraft that meet the following three elements:
- Capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere
- Flown within visual line-of-sight of the person operating it
- Flown for hobby or recreational purposes
Thus, a model aircraft is a drone, and a drone that meets the elements above is a model aircraft.
Recreational Drone Use
The FAA’s new rule, codified in 14 CFR 107, and effective August 2016, does not apply to drones flown strictly for fun (hobby or recreational purposes) as long as the drone is flown in accordance with the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (Public Law 112-95, Section 336) which defines a model aircraft as “an unmanned aircraft that is (1) capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere; (2) flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and (3) flown for hobby or recreational purposes.”
In the rule Congress also expressly limited the FAA’s authority over model aircraft (drones flown for fun and recreation) stating that the FAA “may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft” so long as the following conditions are met:
- the aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use;
- the aircraft is operated in accordance with a community based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization;
- the aircraft is limited to not more than 55 pounds unless otherwise certified through a design, construction, inspection, flight test, and operational safety program administered by a community-based organization;
- the aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft; and
- when flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport) with prior notice of the operation (model aircraft operators flying from a permanent location within 5 miles of an airport should establish a mutually-agreed upon operating procedure with the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport)).
Do I need to keep my drone within my line-of-sight when I am flying the drone for recreational purposes?
Yes, if you operate your drone outdoors under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (which applies to drones flown recreationally) then you must fly the drone within your line-of-sight. While the FAA is not permitted to make rules regarding model aircraft or recreational drones, the Special Rule for Model Aircraft passed by Congress outlined a few limitations. One of the three defining elements of a “model aircraft” flight is that the unmanned aircraft be “flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft.”
According to the FAA, the line-of-sight mandate prohibits the use any type of vision enhancing devices (binoculars, night vision goggles, etc) other than eyeglasses or contact lenses. US Drone Law notes that the Special Rule for Model Aircraft does expressly prohibit vision enhancing devices. It is conceivable that an operator could maintain visual line of sight while utilizing a vision enhancing device.
The line-of-sight requirement for recreational use of drones does seem to eliminate the possibility of using first-person view goggles to fly a drone. Unless you fly under the Part 107 rule (which means you need to have a remote pilot certificate and comply with all other requirements in the Part 107 rule) and request a waiver to allow the use of first-person view goggles. In short, without a waiver or COA from the FAA, the only way you can use first-person view goggles with a drone is to operate the drone indoors.
Do I need any type of permission or license to fly a drone for recreational, non-business purposes?
No, but you must register your drone with the FAA if it weighs more than 0.55 lbs and will be flown outdoors. You are also required to comply with the Special Rule for Model Aircraft in your operations of the drone. The Model Aircraft Rule prescribes some notification and safety requirements which you need to follow if you fly a drone for recreation purposes. You are also subject to any airspace restrictions that are currently in place in your area. The FFA publishes the B4UFly app which can help you identify restricted airspace.
What could happen if I choose to fly my drone recreationally within five miles of an airport over the objection of the airport operator?
If you choose to fly your drone recreationally (pursuant to the Special Rule for Model Aircraft) within five miles of an airport, over the objection of the airport operator you need to make sure you have all your legal ducks in a row. Don’t let this intimidate you. Just read through the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (available on this website) and document that you are meeting all the requirements of that rule. Also make sure you are following with best practices for safe drone operation and confirm that your operation does not endanger manned aircraft.
The airport operator can take one of the following actions if you fly over his or her objection:
- Contact the airport traffic control tower (ATCT), if one is located at your airport and ask the control tower to investigate further.
- Contact local law enforcement to potentially investigate and, as appropriate, pursue enforcement actions to stop your use of the drone.
- Notify the FAA’s 24 hours Regional Operations Center (ROC).
- Notify the local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO).nnIf you have all your legal ducks in a row, then you should be able to weather of action taken against you.
Make sure that you remain calm, polite, and professional as you navigate the situation. The old adage, a soft answer turneth away wrath, can go a long way in making sure you reach your ultimate objective—having a great time flying your drone.
If you are flying your drone for enjoyment and not for work, business purposes, or for compensation, then your use of the drone would almost certainly be classified as recreational or hobby use. The FAA has used the ordinary dictionary definitions of the terms hobby and recreation when evaluating drone use. A drone is flown as part of a hobby if the drone uses is a “pursuit outside one’s regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation.” A drown is flown for recreation if the drone is used for “refreshment of strength and spirits after work; a means of refreshment or diversion.”