Did you recently purchase your very first drone? Have you been scouring the internet, researching every aspect of drone ownership and responsibility? Before you operate your aerial vehicle, it is important to consider if you will need a drone license to pilot it.
We want to separate fact from fiction by giving you the tools you need to get moving in the right direction. We will break down the difference between recreational and commercial drones, key regulations and registration requirements, and the process for earning your drone license.
Flying Drones: Recreational Vs. Commercial
Breaking Down the Difference
Before you decide if you need to get your drone pilot's license, it is important to break down the difference between flying drones recreationally as opposed to flying them for commercial reasons. The purpose of your drone usage is the ultimate determinant in whether you will need to first earn your drone license or be permitted to fly without one.
If you will only use the drone for fun, such as making bird's-eye videos and photos to enjoy for your own personal use, the requirements are far less stringent. On the other hand, if you intend to use your drone to help make you a profit, then you must pass an exam proctored by the Federal Aviation Administration and become a Part 107-certified pilot.
After earning your drone license, you will have the ability to operate your aerial vehicle for purposes like taking photos and videos for stock images, becoming a crew member in films, capturing aerial photos at special events, or whatever other commercial endeavor you choose.
Operating a drone recreationally means you use it for your only personal enjoyment alone, so you are not required to earn a drone license. Commercial operation of drones, however, is when you pilot it to help you earn money — in which case, you will need to get your drone license before take-off.
Before earning your drone license, you must remember some important considerations. First, pilots are only permitted to fly their drone at an altitude of 400 feet or lower. The drone must be visible to you at all times when in flight and should never be flown near other aircraft.
You should not fly your drone over large crowds or groups of individuals, such as near sporting events, in stadiums and other such venues. You must not operate your drone near emergency response situations and rescues.
Responsible pilots hoping to earn their drone license must never fly their drone while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. You need to be cognizant of your limitations within the airspace you are flying in, too.
As a general rule, you must operate your drone at least 5 miles away from an airport. Otherwise, you must give the control tower notification of your intent and flight path. Besides the strict rules put in place by the Federal Aviation Administration, there are also regulations governing the piloting of drones by many national parks.
Regulations & Registration
If you earn your drone license, there are some governing regulations encompassing aerial vehicle operation you need to know.
You must pilot your drone carefully and cautiously, paying attention to your surroundings and environment.
You need to keep your drone within your line of sight at all times and only fly one aerial vehicle at a time.
You must fly during the daytime. (Flight is permitted during civil twilight, meaning you can only operate your drone half an hour before sunrise or half an hour after sunset.)
Your drone speed should not exceed 100 mph, nor should you fly your drone over people who are not involved in piloting the aerial vehicle. Individuals secure in a covered area or a vehicle that would protect them in case the drone fell out of the sky are the exception to this rule.
What is more, you cannot pilot your drone from a mobile aircraft or vehicle. After earning your drone license, you can fly your drone in Class G airspace without prior approval from air traffic control. Flights conducted in Class B, C, D, and E airspace must have prior approval from air traffic control before beginning.
Once you earn your drone license, your aerial vehicle may carry a properly secured load if that load does not alter the mobility of the drone. The vehicle can carry loads for commercial purposes.
There is one key point to remember after getting your drone license. Many of these governing regulations may be waived if you offer proof that your piloting of the vehicle can still be done securely, even with the waiver.
Once you earn your drone license, there are registration requirements you must adhere to. At one point, recreational pilots had to register, but a later court case changed that mandate. However, the rules have changed yet again.
All recreational pilots must now pay a $5 fee to register with the Federal Aviation Administration before operating their aerial vehicle.
After paying that fee to operate your drone recreationally, you can own and operate however many aircraft your heart desires for 3 years before you are required to renew. After you register, you will receive your Federal Aviation Administration ID number to stick on your drone.
There are some drones you do not have to register, even if you get your drone license. Aerial vehicles weighing 8.8 ounces or fewer need not register with the Federal Aviation Administration. If your drone is an industrial aerial vehicle, you must submit a paper application to register rather than completing the process online.
Getting Your Drone License
Under the Federal Aviation Regulations, if you want to earn your drone license to pilot commercially, you must be no younger the 16 years old. One option to earn your drone license is to pass a knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing institution.
A second option is relevant if you already have your Part 61 pilot certificate, did a flight review in the past 2 years, and took the unmanned aircraft systems class. If you fulfill all these qualifications and completed a knowledge test in the past 2 years, then you are eligible to get your drone license.
Flight reviews completed in the prior 2 years may enable you to take an online course rather than the knowledge exam.
Whether you operate your drone recreationally or commercially, you need to have a plan in place for handling potential conflict which may arise while in flight. Many a drone has come in contact with other drones or too close to individuals on the ground.
For instance, if someone were to becoming annoyed with the presence of your drone and shoot at it, you would need to call the police right away. However, most conflict does not reach this boiling point and can be resolved with a kind, open approach.
If someone becomes upset about you piloting your drone and causes trouble, try having an open conversation with that person about why you are flying it. Perhaps you can give that person an example of the imagery or videos you are shooting so they see you mean no harm.
If you want to deal with conflict effectively, you also need to know your rights to operate a drone within the vicinity of other people. For instance, if you are flying your drone on your property or public property, you have full rights to operate it according regular airspace rules.
However, if you are flying your drone on private property, you could be in the wrong. If the person who owns the property requests you bring your drone down and leave it on their land, it is in your best interest to agree to their request.
Alternatively, if a property owner were to ask you to leave your memory card behind or try to keep you from leaving the premises, you are within your rights to question these directives. The Photographer’s Right pamphlet is a good resource to keep on hand whenever you operate your drone, in case you ever run into any issues.
Getting your drone license to fly your unmanned aerial vehicle commercially is just the first step. Once you are certified and able to set your drone free in the open sky, there are some important things to remember. First, be cognizant of the individuals and environment you fly in, to avoid potential conflict situations.
If a conflict arises while operating your drone, keep your cool and try to have a friendly conversation with the individual about the situation. Educate yourself regarding your pilot rights.
Second, always adhere to the regulations mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration for drone operation. These will simplify your piloting experience and make it easier to avoid hazy situations. For instance, this means if you are flying within Class C airspace, you must let your local control tower know before starting the flight. Finally, enjoy yourself and capture photos and videos on your drone to last a lifetime.