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
Commercial Drone Use
I own a number of rental properties and plan to use a drone I purchased a couple months ago to help inspect my properties for maintenance issues. Is this commercial use?
Yes. The FAA views any drone operation that supports the functions of your business as a non-recreational use. You may fly a drone for business purposes if you meet one of the following three criteria:
- Follow the Requirements in the Part 107 Rule
- Obtain a Section 333 Grant of Exemption
- Obtain an Airworthiness Certificate for the Aircraft
You can also hire someone who has met the federal requirements to operate a drone for business purposes.
If a REALTOR operates a drone without meeting the requirements of the Part 107 rule or without a Section 333 waiver does he or she violate the REALTOR® Code of Ethics?
No. The REALTOR® Code of Ethics does not address this type of conduct. While REALTORS® are encouraged to always abide by local, state, and federal laws, it is not a REALTOR® association’s role to adjudicate whether a REALTOR® has violated a local, state or federal law.
There are three ways to fly a drone as part of your business or for other non-recreational purposes:
- Follow the Requirements in the Part 107 Rule
- Obtain a Section 333 Grant of Exemption
- Obtain an Airworthiness Certificate for the Aircraft (this is the route intended for conventional manned aircraft, but could technically be used for unmanned aircraft (drones).
If I violate the FAA rules for drone registration and drone operation will I automatically be fined?
The FAA has indicated that it will attempt to educate operators who fail to comply with the FAA’s drone regulations. Enforcement action for violations will be processed on a case-by-case basis. All aspects of a violation will be considered, along with mitigating and aggravating circumstances surrounding the violation. Fines will remain an option when egregious circumstances are present.
Part 107 Drone Rule
I already have a traditional pilot license (issued under part 61) but would like to fly drones as well. Do I need to obtain a separate drone pilot license?
Yes, if you plan to fly the drone for anything other than recreational purposes (under the authority of 14 CFR 107) then you will need to obtain a drone pilot license. The FAA created a separate drone pilot license (called a remote pilot certificate) for anyone piloting a drone under the Part 107 rule. The remote pilot certificate can be obtained by taking and passing an aeronautical knowledge test. However, anyone who holds a part 61 pilot certificate and has completed a flight review within the past 24 months may obtain the new remote pilot certificate by taking an online training course that focuses on drone-specific areas of knowledge instead sitting for the knowledge test. Everyone else will be required to take and pass the initial aeronautical knowledge test to obtain a remote pilot certificate.
The only other exceptions to the above would be drone operations under a Section 333 waiver and drone operations under a public COA.
How long will it take the FAA to make a decision on waiver requests submitted pursuant to the new drone regulations?
The FAA recommends that waiver applicants submit requests at least 90 days in advance of when the waiver is needed. Naturally, the time to process a waiver will vary greatly depending on the complexity of the request. The FAA will notify applicants via email when a decision has been made about the waiver request.
The FAA has created an online portal for reporting drone accidents. The portal will be available through the agency’s website. The FAA will also accept accident reports submitted through an FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). You can find the FSDO closest to you by following this link.
The small UAS rule (14 CFR 107) allows drone operators to apply for a certificate of waiver. A waiver allows a drone operator to not comply with parts of the rules if the FAA finds that the proposed operation can be performed safely. Only the following sections in the rule can be waived:
- Operation from a moving vehicle or aircraft (§ 107.25)
- Daylight operation (§ 107.29)
- Visual line of sight aircraft operation (§ 107.31)
- Visual observer (§ 107.33)
- Operation of multiple small unmanned aircraft systems (§ 107.35)
- Yielding the right of way (§ 107.37(a))
- Operation over people (§ 107.39)
- Operation in certain airspace (§ 107.41)
- Operating limitations for small unmanned aircraft (§ 107.51)
The FAA has indicated that an online portal will soon be available through which drone operators can apply for waivers to the applicable Part 107 rule.
The FAA tends to refer to the new regulations as the “Part 107 rule” or the “Small UAS rule.” You may also see the regulations referred to as the “14 CFR 107” (this is an abbreviated way to say Title 14, Part 107 of the Code of Federal Regulations) or simply as the “new FAA drone rules.”
Public Drone Use
Will I still need a Certificate or Waiver or Authorization (COA) to fly my drone under the Part 107 rule?
If your drone operations comply with the new Part 107 rule, then there is no need for you to retain your COA, whether it be Section 333 COA or a public COA. However, if your drone operations do not comply with the Part 107 rule (maybe you have not yet obtained a remote pilot certificate which is required to operate under the Part 107 rule) then you should continue to fly under those COA requirements until the COA expires. The FAA has indicated that its policy will be to not renew current Section 333 exemptions if the drone operation permitted under the exemption can be completed under the new Part 107 rule.
COAs for public aircraft operation provide significant latitude to the public entity. For this reason, it may be more advantageous for a public entity to continue operation under a COA. This will need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
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)).
Section 333 Drone Use
Am I better off flying my drone under the new drone rules (Part 107 rule) or my Section 333 exemption?
Whether you should continue to fly your drone under your Section 333 exemption or the new Part 107 rule really depends on the conditions and limitations of your Section 333 exemption and whether the exemption provides latitude that the Part 107 rule does not. If your work requires the extra latitude provided under the Section 333 exemption, then you should probably continue operations under that exemption.
The new rule (14 CFR 107) does not apply or have any effect on those who are currently operating a drone under their Section 333 exemption. A Section 333 exemption holder now just has an extra legal framework under which he or she can choose to conduct drone operations. The FAA has indicated, though, that a Section 333 exemption holder cannot mix, match, and merge his or her Section 333 exemption and the new drone rule (14 CFR 107). You must choose to operate under one or the other. So, a Section 333 exemption holder can either:
- Continue to fly using their Section 333 exemption, following the conditions and limitations in the exemption or
- Get a remote pilot certificate and start flying under the Part 107 rule, following all the requirements of the new rule.
Do I need a Section 333 exemption, or any other kind of special permission, to fly a drone for my business after the new drone regulation (Part 107 rule) becomes effective?
If you have obtained your drone pilot license (remote pilot certificate) and registered your drone, then you can fly in Class G airspace (with a few limitations) without any special exemptions, permissions, or waivers, as long as you follow all the requirements in the Small UAS rule (14 CFR 107).
If you decide you want to fly in Class B through E airspace, or that you want to fly your drone in a manner that does not comply with Small UAS rule, then you will need to request additional permission and/or waivers.
I obtained a Section 333 exemption before the new drone rules were published. Do the new rules render my Section 333 exemption obsolete?
A Section 333 exemption remains valid until it expires and you may continue to fly your drone under the conditions and limitations in your Section 333 exemption. If your drone operations are such that they could be legally conducted on the new drone rules (14 CFR 107) you can voluntarily choose to fly your drone under the new rules instead of your Section 333 exemption. Keep in mind, however, that if you wish to operate under Part 107, you must meet all the requirements of Part 107, which includes obtaining a remote pilot certificate.
Now that the FAA has published new drone rule (14 CFR 107) will the FAA still issue renewals of current Section 333 exemption holders?
The FAA has indicated that its policy will be to not renew current Section 333 exemptions for drone operators if the drone operation permitted under the exemption can be completed under the new Part 107 rule. If your drone operation cannot be conducted under the requirements of the new Part 107 rule then you will need to seek renewal of your Section 333 petition once it expires.