10 Rules and Tips Before Flying Your Drone

Were you on Santa’s nice-list this past year?  Did you receive the coveted drone (Unmanned Aircraft System - UAS) for Christmas? While Santa rules the airways on December 24th, he does not control it the rest of the year.1  Your drone, legally called an unmanned aircraft system (UAS), is subject to rules from governing authorities, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)2  and the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT).3  The following is a list of rules and tips for flying a drone for educational or recreational use and avoiding legal trouble:4 

  1. Register your drone with the FAA!  This is the first thing you must do if your drone is over 0.55 lbs - and it must be under 55 pounds.  The registration cost is $5.00 and is good for 3 years. Then, label your drone with your UAS registration number being sure to apply the label properly.  
  2. You must be 13 years or older (if the owner is less than 13 years old, a person 13 years of age or older must register the drone) and you must be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident.
  3. There is no pilot license requirement.
  4. Do not fly over people and respect the privacy of anyone on the ground.
  5. Notify airport and air traffic control if you are flying within 5 miles of an airport, and you must always yield right of way to manned aircraft.
  6. Keep the drone in sight (visual line-of-sight) and below 400 feet. Also, always ask permission before launching your drone.5 
  7. Never fly under the influence.
  8. Do not use your drone for surveillance.6 
  9. Be aware of airspace requirements.  Know the “No Drone Zones” and other areas in which you cannot fly your drone.  This includes flying in Washington D.C., near other aircrafts or in restricted airspace, such as stadiums and sporting events, wildfires, airports, etc.  You can check the TFR website for restrictions in your area.  You can read more about the specific restrictions on the FAA Airspace Restrictions webpage.
  10. Download the B4UFLY smartphone app. This app will provide you with new information about airspace restrictions and contains other great resources.  

Keep in mind that there are much more stringent rules if you have a commercial purpose for your drone, which I do not cover in this article.   In you are interested in learning more, the FAA website has tons of helpful information.  Have fun and happy flying!


1The governing authorities also control the use on drones on December 24th.

2The FAA has exclusive authority over the use of airspace in the United States, including airspace used by drones.

3North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has the authority to implement and manage regulations that pertain to state laws concerning drone operations within North Carolina.  Senate Bill 744 (2014).  

4These rules are in accordance with Special Rule for Model Aircraft (Public Law 112-95 Section 336).

5No unmanned aircraft system may be launched or recovered from any State or private property without consent. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-300.2.

6North Carolina criminal law prohibits the use of drones for surveillance of persons or dwellings, or the surveillance of real property without the permission of the owner. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-300.1(b)


Published by Shiann Schmidt on January 11, 2017