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.
The FAA Reauthorization Act
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. To view our full write-up on the Act, click here.
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 It repealed Section 336, which once dictated the difference between recreational and commercial pilots.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.
Airspace Authorization: Know Where You Can Fly
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:
- Fly in Class G uncontrolled airspace without acquiring FAA authorization.
- Fly in Controlled Airspace after acquiring FAA authorization.
- To see what airspace your site falls under, visit http://knowbeforeyoufly.org/air-space-map/. Type your address into the search bar at the top of the map, then zoom in to view just the area where you’d be flying, then use the Rules & Compliance drop-down to select how you’re intending to fly. This will populate the restrictions surrounding your intended flight area.
- You can also use the AirMap app, a free application for safe, compliant and efficient drone operations that shows you nearby airspaces and allows you to request authorization from within the app.
You can fly at an FAA fixed flight site. Fixed sites (controlled airspaces that the FAA has given recreational pilots permission to fly in) can be found here.
- The aircraft is flown strictly for recreational purposes.
- The aircraft is operated in accordance with or within the programming of a community-based organization's set of safety guidelines that are developed in coordination with the FAA.
- The aircraft is flown within the visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft or a visual observer co-located and in direct communication with the operator.
- The aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft.
- In Class B, Class C, or Class D airspace or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport, the operator obtains prior authorization from the Administrator or designee before operating and complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions.
- In Class G airspace, the aircraft is flown from the surface to not more than 400 feet above ground level and complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions.
- The operator has passed an aeronautical knowledge and safety test and maintains proof of test passage to be made available to the Administrator or a designee of the Administrator or law enforcement upon request.
- The aircraft is registered and marked and proof of registration is made available to the Administrator or a designee of the Administrator or law enforcement upon request.
You can obtain your Part 107 Remote Pilot Certification. In order to fly your drone under the FAA's Small UAS Rule (Part 107), you must obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA. A Part 107 is a commercial drone pilot license which demonstrates that you understand the regulations, operating requirements and procedures for safely flying drones. With your Part 107, you’re able to fly under the already established commercial drone laws, which means you won’t need to put your program on hold or relocate your flight operations when the new drone laws are released. For more information on this test and the best way to study, visit https://edventures.com/products/drone-pilot-ground-school.
Educators also have the option to partner with a group or community member holding a Part 107 certification. This Remote Pilot Certification allows you or someone else to “supervise” pilots as an authority on drone laws, safety and skills.
To help make this transition easier, we’ve also created a 1-page PDF explanation to help educators understand the options available to them.
What This Means For Instructors
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:
- Register your Drone
- Fly for Recreational (non-commercial) purposes
- Follow the safety guidelines of a community-based organization — we recommend the guidelines provided by the AMA.
- Fly within visual line-of-sight; for FPV piloting, this means following the AMA guidelines for visual observers.
- Only fly drones under 55 lb.
- Don’t interfere with and give way to manned aircraft.
- Never fly near emergency response efforts.
- Never fly over groups of people, public events or near emergencies.
- Fly in Class G uncontrolled airspace or acquire FAA authorization for controlled airspace flights
- Drone Knowledge Test