Calling all drone pilots, the FAA has new rules you need to know, and follow. Commercial drone operators can operate as usual, but hobby pilots, every last one of you flying a drone in your backyard or local park, you may not be allowed to fly where you have been.

In accordance with the FAA reauthorization act of 2018, airspace changes are upon us.

FAA Reauthorization act header

Airspace

There is a long list of changes in the works, the primary change happening right now, all flights, hobby or other, must adhere to FAA airspace regulations. All pilots operating in restricted airspace, such as close to an airport, will need authorization before they can take off.

FAA UAS Map

Previously, you could simply open the B4UFly app to identify all of the airports within 5 miles of your desired operation, then call each and every one to inform them of your flight. The systems for automated approval are not in place yet, so you will still need to phone in to the airport. Commercial pilots have been using LAANC for automated airspace approval for a while now, that system will expand to encompass your hobby needs, soon. That’s the proverbial ‘soon,’ we do not have an ETA.

The problem is, not all airports are set up to authorize your flights yet. As such, the FAA has identified small pockets where you can fly in the controlled airspace without requiring specific authorization. I found only one such area in the greater Portland Metro controlled airspaces, over top of a model airplane club on the very outskirts.

FAA Airspace map for hobby pilots

On the bright side, these rules apply to the controlled airspace only, for now. That means that if you are flying far away from an airport, or other FAA controlled airspace, you can fly freely. To be clear, all of the other drone regulations still apply, you just don’t need to call an airport.

FAA LAANC safety stickers

From the FAA:

While recreational flyers may continue to fly below 400 feet in uncontrolled airspace without specific certification or operating authority from the FAA, they are now required to obtain prior authorization from the FAA before flying in controlled airspace around airports. Furthermore, they must comply with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions when flying in controlled and uncontrolled airspace.

Licensing

Not in place at this time, but coming very, very soon, all pilots will need to pass a knowledge test to receive an operator’s license before they can fly. If you fly for pay, the Part 107 certification is in place as an official test to prove knowledge of airspace rules and more for your flight.

Requiring hobby pilots to become certified will be a difficult pill to swallow for many. Many caring parents purchase a fun little drone for their children to enjoy in the backyard or local park. It all seems harmless, but depending on the size of the drone and the location of the flight, little Jimmy may be breaking the law without a license and authorization to fly.

FAA LAANC love safety stickers

It doesn’t stop there, all of this is in addition to the current drone registration requirements. That is, you need to register with the FAA before you fly, and affix your drone registration number to your craft.

There is plenty more to say on this topic, we’re typing it out now, but we also cover some of the basics as part of our observations from AUVSI Xponential 2019 in Chicago. We’ll put a link here once complete. Until then, don’t forget to follow the FAA drone flight rules:

Bottom line, things are getting more complicated for drone flight in the United States. Many of these rules will deter potential pilots, especially in the hobby-class, it’s just hard to conceive of needing to write a government exam prior to operating a toy in the backyard.

While the annoyances are legitimate, the safety measures are as well. There is no doubt that drones make the news for bad more than for good, and there should be little question that the average drone can cause harm, even loss of life, if operated unsafely and/or in the wrong place at the wrong time. A dent in a manned aircraft is not as inconsequential to operation as a dent in a car, for example.

Furthering the above comparison, with most car issues you can safely coast to the side of the road. Most aircraft can glide fairly well, but there is no guaranteed “side of the road” in the sky. Point is, all of these drone flight rules are based on the safety of other aircraft and folks on the ground. We are a society that pushes things to limits, safety-be-damned, so the rules are fairly strict to try to reign us in.

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