From drone racing to aerial photography, remote control (RC) flying is one of the fastest growing hobbies in the United States. According to The Flight Safety Foundation, one million drones (878,000 operated by hobbyists and 122,000 used for commercial and government use) have been registered with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). If you are one of the lucky people that owns a drone and if you want to get the most out of your flights, it is very important you consider a few important points as you start flying.
1. Consider Where You Want to Fly
If you follow the #dronestagram hashtag, you will find hundreds of examples of some amazing locations for drone flights. But for every place where flights are encouraged and sometimes even celebrated – there is airspace that is discouraged and sometimes even forbidden to enter. Flying your drone comes with rules, regulations, and responsibilities akin to flying a plane; and knowing where to fly is just as important as knowing how to fly. Among the current airspace restrictions established by the FAA are:
- Drones must be flown under 400 feet above ground level.
- Drones should not be flown over groups of people, public events, or stadiums full of people. (Part of this regulation may change as U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao has recently proposed new rules that will allow drones to fly over groups of people under certain conditions. )
- Drones are prohibited from flying:
- near military bases
- near airports
- inside of security sensitive airspace
- near critical infrastructure like power plants, dams, etc.
- anywhere in the Washington, DC area
- over any emergency or rescue operation
The FAA has created a free mobile app called B4UFLY that uses your device’s location to inform you about airspace and flight limit restrictions. B4UFLY is admittedly not a very well-designed app, but it does provide you with the critical airspace information you need before your flights.
B4UFly is available for iOS or Android.
2. Consider Flying with a Visual Observer
A Visual Observer (VO) is a member of a flight mission that serves as a second set of eyes to monitor your drone in flight. The main reason to use a VO is for greater situational awareness during a flight. While you are focusing on your drone’s controller and camera, your VO can maintain line of sight with the drone to help ensure that you are flying safely. Although a VO is not required by the FAA for regular drone missions, having one is certainly useful, and can help mitigate risks during a flight.
When you fly with a VO, the FAA considers you the Remote Pilot in Command (PIC). For more information on the roles of the Visual Observer and the Remote Pilot in Command, see the Section 2 of the FAA’s Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
3. Consider Getting Your Part 107 License
If you want to fly your drone for any paid purpose, including promoting your business, you need a sUAS Part 107 Certification (also called a Drone Pilot’s License) from the FAA. There are a vast array of free and paid study guides that can help you prepare for the Part 107 Exam, including a very good Part 107 study guide from the FAA. Among the sections you will be tested on for the Part 107 Exam are:
- airspace classifications
- aviation weather
- drone aircraft loading and performance
- emergency procedures
- crew resource management
- radio communication
- effects of drugs and alcohol
- airport operations
- maintenance and preflight inspection procedures
For a complete list of requirements and testing information, see the Becoming a Drone Pilot section of the FAA website.
4. Consider Insuring Your Aircraft
Homeowners or renters insurance is probably sufficient for most recreational drone flyers, but if you plan to fly your drone commercially, you may want to consider additional liability coverage. Several companies now offer drone insurance policies that go above and beyond what is in your home or renters policy, including medical and accidental death coverage, as well as additional liability coverage.
Leading drone manufacturers like DJI and Yuneec offer optional equipment insurance beyond the standard purchase warranty. DJI’s drone protection plan called DJI Care Refresh is valid for 12 months and offers up to two full replacements if accidental damage occurs to your drone during normal use. Yuneec offers a similar warranty program called Yes! Extended Service that covers up to two non-warranty repairs. See the manufacturer links above for protection plan terms, conditions, and warranty exclusions.
5. Consider Joining a Flying Group
Flying groups and meetups are great ways to network and learn from the expertise of other flyers. Flying groups are generally organized around either drone racing, stunt flying, or aerial photography. Pick a meetup group (or groups) that align with your interests and enjoy learning from fellow enthusiasts. If you are an Aerial Photographer in the Atlanta area, consider joining our Atlanta Aerial Photography and Drone Fly Meetup group that meets once a month. More information about our group can be found at atlantadronegroup.com.
I am happy to answer any questions you have
Please note: All laws and regulations cited here are as of the time of this writing. Please refer to the links in this article for the latest drone laws and flying regulations.
If you have specific drone questions that you need help with, please refer to the Unmanned Aircraft Systems section of the FAA’s website, or get in touch with me through the Contacts and Bookings page on this site. I have been a Part 107 pilot since 2017, and I am more than happy to answer any questions I can for you. Happy flying!