Updated: Apr 7, 2022
With drones increasing in popularity every year, those who may be thinking about purchasing a drone for their personal or commercial needs may be curious exactly what the legal rules are for flying a drone in the United States.
The most important thing to keep in mind here is that, as with any rapidly developing technology, the legal regulations around drones are in constant flux.
First, it should be noted that there is a legal distinction between commercial use and hobbyist use of drone technology. Recreational flying, defined as “flying for enjoyment and not for work, business purposes, or for compensation or hire” is subject to much less strict requirements. Hobbyists need to simply register their drone online, at: registermyuas.faa.gov.
Commercial, government, and non-profit drone operators have to abide be a few more regulations. A few years ago, all commercial drone flights required a Certificate of Authorization (COA). Flying a drone also required a private pilot’s license, which was a huge obstacle in the way of the growing popularity of drones.
Then, in 2012, the FAA (Federal Flight Administration) created Part 333, an exemption that allowed drone pilots to fly without constantly having to apply for COAs.
Just this year, the FAA made it even easier for commercial operators to fly a drone. The new rule, known as Part 107 has made it very easy to stay legal and operate a business or research project that involves drone technology.
Part 107 covers a broad spectrum of commercial uses for drones weighing less than 55 pounds, with some further stipulations such as always having the drone within your unaided sight, in good weather, under 400 ft. of altitude, and under 100 mph (87 knots). To operate a drone under Part 107 you need a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating, or be under the direct supervision of a person who holds such a certificate
Because most commercial operators don’t need to exceed these parameters, Part 107 actually makes it quite easy to fly a drone legally for business or research. For those that need a larger drone, or need to operate it remotely (out of direct line of sight), Part 333 is required.
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