Things to know before you before you fly a drone

A concise introduction to the existing requirements and regulations that you should be aware of before flying a drone

With UAVs gaining huge popularity amongst recreational and commercial users, the numbers have only grown exponentially over the years. Without surprise, various regulations and policies that govern their operations have also been formulated and amended by the government from time to time.

If you intend to own a drone and pilot it, you should know that this machine is technically categorized as an aircraft and hence the nodal regulatory body that promulgates and controls all matters governing the ownership and operations of the same in the United States is the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA). All current policies, detailed guidelines, and other related information are found on their website. I would emphatically state that the above-mentioned website is the only reference needed prior to buying or operating a drone.

The succeeding paragraphs are only a ready reckoner, though not encompassing all aspects, derived from the FAA documents for comprehending and gaining an overall idea about the agency’s requirements for legally operating a drone.

 

What are the categories of UAVs or drones and what are their registration requirements?

  • Weighing less than 0.55 pounds – Registration not mandatory but to be used for recreational purposes only.
  • Weighing above 55 pounds – Registration is mandatory and have to follow the offline application route similar to any civil aircraft registration process by submission of paper forms.
  • Weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds – Registration is mandatory and can be registered online through the FAA web portal. All further discussions in this article refer to this popular category of drones.

 

What kind of drone user are you?

Recreational Users: In simple words, you belong to this category if you own or fly without any monetary gain directly or indirectly. The end purpose is just fun.

Commercial Users: As the name suggests, if the services of drones generate revenue directly or indirectly then certainly you belong in this group. In different forums and guidelines, this category may also be referred technically as ‘operations under Part 107 rules’

Important: As per law any user who uses drones only for fun with no financial gain directly or indirectly is a recreational user. So, choose accordingly as separate guidelines exist for each. Defaulting can lead to severe consequences.

How to Register your drone?

The mandatory registration requirement varies for recreational users and commercial users. This can be done through FAA’s online portal link. Register in the link given and opt as per your user category as indicated below and you will be issued with a unique registration number within a month.

Recreational users: Select the option ‘I fly under exception for recreational flyers’ and follow the step-wise self-explanatory registration process.

Commercial users: Select the option ‘I fly under part 107 or as a public aircraft’ and proceed through the steps.

How to label your drone?

It is essential to have the registration number displayed on your drone either by engraving or using printed or handwritten labels. If you doubt how it should look like, then go to this FAA link.

 

Before You Fly

One should note before we go further that for commercial users, the pilot or the operator should hold a Remote Pilot in Command certification to operate which is not mandatory for a recreational pilot.

 Recreational Users:

  1. The first thing to do is download the B4UFLY app on your mobile
  2. Next check if the area you intend to fly is clear and launch your machine
  3. There is plenty of aeronautical jargon regarding airspace classes and control which you will get accustomed to with time if you are new to the trade, the app simplifies the process and will make your life easier
  4. All you need to know as a recreational flyer is that you are authorized to fly only below 400 feet, you need to be situationally aware and ensure the safety of others on the ground as well as air
  5. Flying in controlled air spaces is strictly prohibited without prior approval for any category. Approval can be obtained through FAA’s web portal – DroneZone.
  6. Always, always follow the popular aviation statement – If you are in doubt – STOP – refer to the books first. (Refer to this link –  FAA guidelines for recreational users for detailed information).
  7. There are various classes of airspace and all are controlled- except Class G airspace which is the only area where drones can be flown without prior permission. Controlled airspace in laymen’s terms means that it is monitored by an agency for air traffic or any other purpose and requires prior intimation and authorization to fly in them.

 

Commercial Users

 I presume that it is very unlikely that anyone who belongs to this category will ever require this article for reference! Yet for anyone who wishes to understand the elements involved and have a fair idea of what to expect as a commercial user I have briefly highlighted the basic steps below with links for further reference.

 

  1. Thoroughly comprehend Part 107 guidelines of FAA. This is the first step. Look no further than FAA link here for a summarised version in pdf format.
  2. One is authorised to fly as per the rules stated in part 107, however, if you intend a profile or area which is not covered by the rule then one needs to apply for waivers and get an approval. The online portal for applying is through FAA’s For example one is not authorised to fly a drone in a moving vehicle as per regulations of part 107, if you need to do this, then obtain an approval.
  3. You need to study to clear the aeronautical knowledge test for becoming a certified FAA drone pilot. Materials for study are readily available in FAA website.
  4. Register and apply through IACRA online portal for giving the knowledge test at any one of the FAA approved knowledge center.
  5. If you clear the test, then the final part is getting your Remote Pilot Certificate by submitting forms through IACRA web portal mentioned above.

 

The aviation sector is built on pillars of safety, be it the engineering or the operational aspect, it will continue to evolve and strengthen- making it safer for humans. Regulatory and safety agencies will raise the bars and improve upon the existing methodologies and norms for safer operations and bring down accidents. The FAA is likely to introduce aeronautical knowledge and safety test for the recreational fliers too very soon this year!

It is essential for all the pilots and engineers of this industry, irrespective of whether they are new or experienced to keep abreast of the changes and be current in their domain and continue, as in the parlance of aviation, with ‘Happy Landings’.

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply