Overview of Hobby Flying Rules
Per the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 and Exception for Limited Recreational Operations of Unmanned Aircraft notice, the FAA currently requires hobbyists to follow theses rules:
- Register your drone with the FAA
- Mark your registration number on the exterior of the drone (decals available here)
- Fly a drone under 55 lbs
- Fly only for hobby or recreation
- Follow the safety guidelines of a nationwide community-based organization (CBO)
- Keep your drone within your visual line of sight (VLOS) of the person operating the drone or within the visual line of sight of a visual observer (VO) who is near the operator and able to communicate verbally
- Follow all FAA airspace restrictions, special security instructions, and temporary flight restrictions (TFRs)
- Don’t fly over people
- Don’t fly near other manned aircraft
- Don’t fly near emergency response activities
- Don’t fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Don’t fly above 400 feet in uncontrolled airspace (Class G)
- Don’t fly in controlled airspace (Classes B, C, D, and E Surface) without FAA authorization
Note: On October 5, 2018, the President signed the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. The Act establishes new conditions for recreational use of drones and immediately repeals the Special Rule for Model Aircraft.
Note: You can only fly as a hobbyist if you’re doing something that does not involve making money and/or furthering a business. If you’d like to fly commercially, you’ll need a Remote Pilot Certificate and you’ll need to follow the Part 107 rules. See more details here.
Note: A drone that does not meet every element of the definition, or is not operated in accordance with every element contained in Section 336(a) and 14 C.F.R. § 101.41, is not a Model Aircraft, and must be operated in accordance with Part 107 or another operational provisions for a particular aircraft.
How to Register Your Drone
If you’ll only be flying as a hobbyist, you should register under the “Exception for Recreational Flyers” on the FAA’s website here. The registration fee is $5 and the registration needs to be renewed every 3 years. All of your drones (weighing 0.55 lbs or more) should be marked with your FAA registration number.
After you complete the registration process, you should receive a copy of your registration information via email. If you ever lose that information, you can find it by logging into your FAA account on this page at the top, right.
You must keep a copy of your registration information (either a hard copy or electronic copy) on your person when flying and make it available to FAA inspectors or law enforcement officials upon request.
Note: If you accidentally register under “Part 107”, you’ll only be able to use your registration number for the drone you entered during the registration process. You can also fly as a hobbyist with that type of registration.
Labeling Your Drone with Your FAA Registration Number
Before flying anywhere outdoors in the US, you must mark your drone(s) with your FAA registration number. As long as you registered under the “Exception for Recreational Flyers”, you can mark all of your drones with the same FAA registration number.
You can mark your FAA registration number on your drone(s) with a label, marker, or engrave it. If you think you’ll ever sell your drone, then marking it with a label that can be removed later would be the best way to go.
Per the External Marking Requirement rule, your FAA registration number must be marked on any external surface of your drone and the number must be maintained in a condition that is readable and legible upon close visual inspection.
Keeping Your Drone in Visual Line of Sight
Per Section 107.31, the person operating the drone is required to maintain visual line of sight (VLOS) with the drone throughout the entire flight. That means you should be able to see your drone with vision that is unaided by any device other than glasses or contacts. See more details here.
The FAA also allows a visual observer (VO) to maintain VLOS. The VO must be near the operator and be able to communicate verbally without the assistance of an electronic device. Using a VO generally is optional, but a VO is required if the operator is wearing FPV glasses/goggles that make it impossible to maintain VLOS.
You’ll be able to spot your drone easier during the day and night by attaching some type of bright lights to the body or landing gear of the drone. STROBON Cree strobe lights are one of the most commonly used lights and are currently the smallest, brightest strobe light available.
Choosing a Community-Based Organization
The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 states a community-based organization is an organization that:
is described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986;
is exempt from tax under section 501(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986;
the mission of which is demonstrably the furtherance of model aviation;
provides a comprehensive set of safety guidelines for all aspects of model aviation addressing the assembly and operation of model aircraft and that emphasize safe aeromodelling operations within the national airspace system and the protection and safety of individuals and property on the ground, and may provide a comprehensive set of safety rules and programming for the operation of unmanned aircraft that have the advanced flight capabilities enabling active, sustained, and controlled navigation of the aircraft beyond visual line of sight of the operator;
provides programming and support for any local charter organizations, affiliates, or clubs; and
provides assistance and support in the development and operation of locally designated model aircraft flying sites.
The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 requires the FAA and community-based aeromodelling organizations (CBOs) to coordinate the development of safety guidelines for recreational small unmanned aircraft operations. As of today, no recognized CBOs or coordinated safety guidelines exist. Until the FAA establishes the criteria and process and begins recognizing CBOs, they are allowing pilots to do one of the following:
Operate in accordance with existing safety guidelines of an aeromodelling organization (like the AMA) as long as those guidelines do not conflict with existing FAA rules.
Follow the FAA’s existing safety guidelines – which are based on industry best practices.
Note: When following the rules of a CBO (or aeromodelling organization), you should be able to explain to an FAA inspector or law enforcement official which safety guidelines you are following.
Flying in Uncontrolled Airspace
Class G airspace is uncontrolled airspace in which the FAA does not provide air traffic services. You may operate your drone in this airspace up to an altitude of 400 feet above ground level (AGL).
Note: You must avoid all aircraft that are operating in this uncontrolled airspace (especially around helipads and airstrips).
Flying in Controlled Airspace
Classes B, C, D, and E Surface are controlled airspace. The FAA has created different classes of airspace to reflect whether aircraft receive air traffic control services and to note levels of complexity, traffic density, equipment, and operating requirements that exist for aircraft flying through different parts of controlled airspace. These airspace classes are usually found near airports.
Before flying in controlled airspace, you must request authorization through the FAA’s online LAANC system using an app like AirMap or one of the other apps listed here. Since the LAANC system is currently only available for commercial pilots, the FAA is only allowing hobbyists to fly in Class G airspace or authorized fixed sites located within controlled airspace. The FAA will provide notice when LAANC is available for hobbyists.
When flying at a fixed site in controlled airspace, you must adhere to the operating limitations of the fixes site’s agreement. See the fixed site’s sponsor for more details.
Staying out of restricted airspace
The DJI GEO system displays zones of various risk levels in DJI GO in which flight may pose safety or security concerns. While some of these zones restrict DJI drones from entering, the fact that you are able to fly in a location does not mean it’s legal to fly in that location.
Here are some other commonly restricted areas:
Stadiums and Sporting Events – Flying drones in and around stadiums is prohibited starting one hour before and ending one hour after the scheduled time of any of the following events: Major League Baseball National Football League NCAA Division One Football NASCAR Sprint Cup, Indy Car, and Champ Series races Specifically, UAS operations are prohibited within a radius of three nautical miles of the stadium or venue.
Near Airports – Generally, drone operators should avoid flying near airports because of other air traffic. It is very difficult for other aircraft to see and avoid a drone while flying, and drone operators are responsible for any safety hazard their drone creates in an airport environment. You must notify the airport operator and air traffic control tower to fly within 5 miles of an airport.
Security Sensitive Airspace Restrictions – Drones are prohibited from flying over designated national security sensitive facilities. Operations are prohibited from the ground up to 400 feet above ground level, and apply to all types and purposes of UAS flight operations. Examples of these locations include military bases designated as Department of Defense facilities, national landmarks (like the Statue of Liberty, Hoover Dam, and Mt. Rushmore), and certain critical infrastructure (like nuclear power plants). See this map for a complete list of restricted locations.
Restricted or Special Use Airspace – Restricted or “special use” airspace is for certain areas where drones and other aircraft are not permitted to fly without special permission, or where limitations must be imposed for any number of reasons. These area include:
Prohibited areas – Airspace where aircraft flight, including drones, is prohibited. The dimensions of each prohibited area are defined in both area and altitude.
Restricted Areas – Areas are where operations are hazardous to you and your drone flying in the vicinity. Restricted areas denote the existence of unusual hazards that are often not immediately visible (for example, artillery firing, aerial gunnery, or guided missiles).
Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) – Defines a certain area of airspace where air travel is limited because of: Temporary hazardous conditions, such as a wildfire, hurricane, or chemical spill. A security-related event, such as the United Nations General Assembly. Other special situations, like VIP movement. See a complete list of TFRs here or on the Airmap map.
Washington, DC – The airspace around Washington, D.C. is more restricted than in any other part of the country. Violators face stiff fines and criminal penalties. DC is governed by a Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) within a 30-mile radius of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), which restricts all flights in the greater D.C. area. The SFRA is divided into a 15-mile radius “inner ring” and a 30-mile radius “outer ring.” It is prohibited to fly a drone within the 15-mile radius inner ring without specific FAA authorization. Flying a drone for recreational or non-recreational use between 15 and 30 miles from Washington, D.C. is allowed if flying under 400 feet AGL.
Emergency & Rescue Operations – The FAA prohibits flying drones over emergency or rescue operations (like wildfires and hurricanes). Current emergency activity areas can be found on the AirMap map.
Note: A current list of restricted airspace can be found on the FAA UAS Data map.
Power of the FAA
The FAA’s safety mandate under 49 U.S.C. § 40103 requires it to regulate aircraft operations conducted in the National Airspace System (NAS), which include UAS operations, to protect persons and property on the round, and to prevent collisions between aircraft or between aircraft and other objects. FAA regulations prohibit any person from operating an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another. See more details here.
Power of Local Cities and Municipalities
In this press release, the FAA explains the power cities and municipalities have over drone flights. They are only able to prohibit taking off and landing on land they own. They are not permitted to have their own rules or regulations governing the operation of aircraft.
Following the rules above will both ensure you’re obeying US law and help you operate your drone safely. Keep in mind that the FAA has the authority to pursue enforcement action against people operating drones in a manner that they determine endangers the safety of the national airspace system (NAS). You could be liable if you harm other people and/or property even if you follow all of the rules above.
In the FAA’s Drone Safety Tips, they recommend that you:
- Be aware of FAA airspace restrictions
- Respect privacy
- Never fly near other aircraft (especially near airports)
- Never fly over groups of people, public events, or stadiums full of people
- Never fly near emergencies such as fires or hurricane recovery efforts
- Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol