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If you are a recreational drone pilot, how and where you fly has changed. Whether you’re a hobbyist, educator or anyone else flying without compensation, the FAA has released a new set of airspace authorization laws, and it’s up to you to make sure you or your flyers continue to pilot legally.
To put it simply, the FAA sees drone pilots as one of two types: those flying with a Remote Pilot Certification, and those flying without one. Recreational pilots fall into the “those without” category. Both of these categories have their own sets of laws about how and where drone pilots can fly. As an educator, the FAA allows you to fly under either set of rules, which opens you and your drone program’s options as you prepare for the emerging drone laws.
When drones first started making their way into more and more airspaces, the laws surrounding unmanned aerial vehicles were pretty lax. As these machines continued to evolve into more complex machines, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) — the governing body of all US airspace — started creating laws to keep pilots accountable and bystanders safe. For the longest time, these laws were simple, relying on conscious pilots to keep themselves and everyone else out of harm's way.
However, there was an issue with these laws — they didn’t account for how quickly drones were going to grow in popularity and how extraordinarily drone technologies were going to grow. Now we have drones delivering coffee in Australia, pizzas in New Zealand and racing drones which can reach speeds of over 120 mph. With an exponentially expanding market, the drone gold-rush was quickly entering uncharted territory and recognizing this in October of 2018, Congress passed The FAA Reauthorization Act.
Aimed at establishing new conditions for recreational drone use, the Act is full of extensive drone-related and non-drone related changes, which means that the way you fly recreational drones, whether it be as a hobby or for educational purposes (unless you are licensed under Part 107), has changed.
For recreational pilots, The FAA Reauthorization Act had some of the biggest impacts. It repealed Section 336, which once dictated the difference between recreational and commercial pilots. Now, recreational pilots are required to follow most of the registrational regulations and specific requirements of commercial drone pilots. The Act also mandated the creation of a Drone Knowledge Test. Similar to a drivers test, recreational pilots will need to pass this test and carry certification of their completion while flying. This test has yet to be released, but according to the FAA website, pilots should expect to see it in 2019. Along with a new test, the FAA also repealed the previous law which mandated notifying an airport if you intended to fly your drone within 5 miles of the airstrip. Now the FAA is adapting a previous commercial drone airspace authorization system to include recreational UAV pilots, which means how and where you fly has changed.
Under the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act, the rules for airport notification are now based on airspace classification rather than distance. You are no longer required to inform airports of your piloting plans. Rather, where you can fly is dictated by the airspace you are trying to pilot in. If you're flying outside, you have four options:
**For any of the three options above, you must meet the eight statutory conditions of Section 349 of the Reauthorization Act.**
To help make this transition easier, we’ve also created a 1-page PDF explanation to help educators understand the options available to them.
In order to be a federally compliant drone instructor, it is on you to ensure you and your program are following all new and emerging drone laws. To stay up-to-date, we advice to continually check in on the FAA website (https://www.faa.gov/) or to subscribe to a drone-focused news service. At PCS Edventures, we will try our best to continually provide you with updates, guidelines and advice on the changing drone landscape, but to account for the lag-time between the FAA releases and our updates, it’s up to you to stay informed.
To make sure you’re following all current and soon-to-be-released laws, here are the current laws and the ones you need to start preparing for:
Current Recreational Flight Laws:
If you have any questions about the laws and how to make sure your program is flying legally, contact a STEM Program Specialist at (800) 429-3110 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re here to help you every step of the way, and as the FAA continues to update their legislation, we will continue to provide as much additional support as we can to keep drones in the hands of your students.
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