In the US, any drone weighing more than 0.55lb (or 250g) needs to be registered with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). Though technically, the DJI Mini 2 I own falls just below that limit at 249g, I jumped through the hoops to register it anyway.
It turns out that registering the drone is not the only step required to make it legal to fly your drone recreationally. I highlight recreationally here because the legal framework provides an exemption for pilots who fly their drone purely for personal enjoyment, which reduces the number of rules and regulations a pilot has to follow. Per the FAA’s website, recreational piloting is defined as follows:
The exception for recreational flyers only applies to flights that are purely for fun or personal enjoyment.(see https://www.faa.gov/uas/recreational_fliers/)
This definition would therefore exclude the following activities:
- Taking photos to help sell a property or service
- Roof inspections
- Taking pictures of a high school football game for the school’s website
- Goodwill or other non-monetary value can also be considered indirect compensation
- Volunteering to use your drone to survey coastlines on behalf of a non-profit organization
Flying your drone for any of the above purposes (and many other) would require a commercial drone license, which takes a lot more effort to acquire. This tutorial therefore focuses on purely recreational flight.
Referring to the FAA’s page on recreational flight, the following requirements need to be met for a pilot to be flying his/her drone legally:
- Fly only for recreational purposes (enjoyment).
- Follow the safety guidelines of an FAA-recognized Community Based Organization (CBO). TODO: Find a good link here.
- Keep your drone within the visual line of sight or use a visual observer who is co-located (physically next to) and in direct communication with you.
- Give way to and do not interfere with manned aircraft.
- Fly at or below the maximum allowed altitude.
- Take The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) and carry proof of test passage (this is a 30 minute online test that you cannot fail).
- Have a current registration, mark your drones on the outside with the registration number, and carry proof of registration with you.
- Do not operate your drone in a dangerous manner, for example.
- Do not interfere with emergency response or law enforcement activities.
- Do not fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Registering your drone is done at the FAA’s drone zone and requires the creation of an account and the payment of 5$. Once registered, the dashboard after login will look something like this:
Authorization for Controlled Airspace
The simplest way to acquire an authorization for flying in controlled airspace (if at all allowed) is via the following two apps.
Strictly speaking, only that latter is required since B4UFLY is purely for providing information about controlled and uncontrolled airspace while Aloft is an actual LAANC provider (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC)). Shown below are screen captures of the two apps that visualize controlled/uncontrolled airspace as well as how an authorization for flight in controlled airspace can be obtained.