Drone and R/C Model Aircraft
"Frequently Asked Questions"
about the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
Rules for Recreational R/C Pilots
The low cost of equipment and widespread sale of drones to hobbyists through retail outlets has greatly increased the number of drone flights in the US. By some estimates, over 5 million drones have been sold in the US in the last 8 years. The FAA (and FCC) are trying to catch up with rules that appropriately regulate the use of recreational and commercial drones in US airspace. The following Q&A will attempt to answer some of your questions.
Q: If I fly a model aircraft or drone, do I have to register with the FAA?
A: Yes! All recreational drone pilots 13 years of age and older must register on-line with the FAA. A parent or guardian of drone pilots under 13 years of age must register for and supervise underage pilots.
Drones flown for commercial purposes must be registered with the FAA and the pilots must pass an FAA qualification test.
The FAA also requires you to label your drones with your FAA number. AMA members should label their drones with their FAA and AMA numbers per the AMA Safety Rules.
Q: I'm not an AMA member, what are the FAA rules for flying a drone?
A: The FAA rules for drones are found in Part 107 of the FAA Regulations for small Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
Q: If I'm flying in my own yard and below 400 feet, can I can fly my drone anytime I want to?
A: Not necessarily. Drones are prohibited from flying within a 5 mile radius of an airport even on private property unless you notify the airport control tower or operator prior to flying.
Q: I'm more the 5 miles from an airport. Can I fly anytime I want to?
A: The answer still may be "no". The FAA periodically issues Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR's) that limit all flying including model aircraft and drones in certain areas for limited times. TFR's have been issued for Presidential and VIP flights into the Waterloo and Central Iowa Airports.
Q: Are there other restricted flying areas?
A: Yes. You cannot fly over or around stadiums seating more than 30,000 people or major sporting venues such as racetracks and major league sports stadiums and arenas. TFR's may be issued for air shows, space flights and natural disasters such as wild fires. There are permanent flight restrictions in and around Washington, DC, at all national parks and some state parks, at 133 military facilities, at 10 National Monuments (including the St Louis Arch and Mount Rushmore), at 7 Department of Energy sites, and Disneyland & Disney World. In general, drone flights are prohibited around or over sensitive infrastructure or property such as power stations, water treatment facilities, correctional facilities and heavily traveled roadways.
A: The FAA has released the "Before You Fly" app for iPhone and Android that use your GPS location to tell you if you are in a restricted fly zone.
Q: Can I fly over 400 feet above the ground?
A: Pilots who are not members of the AMA may not fly higher than 400 feet unless they have a written waiver from the FAA. AMA members, who abide by the AMA Safety Code, are permitted to fly above 400 feet under appropriate circumstances as allowed by the FAA's Special Rule for Model Aircraft. The AMA has been in discussion with the FAA about this point and the agency has indicted that it's altitude guideline is not intended to supplant the guidance and safety procedures established in AMA’s safety program.
Q: Am I permitted to fly first person view (FPV)?
A: Yes, FPV flying is permitted under FAA rules as long as the aircraft or drone is within visual line of sight of the pilot and you use a spotter.
Special Note: Many FPV video transmitters exceed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) power output limit for unlicensed use, and some operate on frequencies that require an FCC license. An amateur radio (HAM) operator's license is required to operate many FPV transmitters.
Q: How are the FAA rules being enforced?
A: The FAA does not have agents looking for violations. They respond to "incidents" such as close calls with manned aircraft or complaints from citizens or law enforcement about unsafe drone operations. Most violations result in a warning letter to the pilot or operator. Flagrant violations are subject to civil fines.
Q: Can I take aerial pictures at my friend's party or wedding?
A: There are two issues here. You cannot fly over people, so any pictures or video should be taken from a location that does not require flying over people. You cannot sell or profit from any pictures or video you take. That would make you a commercial pilot and special rules and licensing apply to commercial operators.
Q: What else should I know?
A: Privacy and property laws apply to any aircraft or drone. You should obtain permission from the landowner before you fly over any property. You do not necessarily have the right to fly or photograph over public property such as parks or schools.
The FAA rules for drones and R/C aircraft are under ongoing review and revision. The FAA Authorization Act, which among other things governs drone and R/C aircraft use and operation, will come up again in the fall of 2018. The rules for recreational and commercial drone and R/C aircraft may be changed yet again.