Common questions about drones

Drones, which are also known by other names such as unmanned aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicles, come in many sizes and styles, and are widely available for purchase around the world. Whether they are flown for fun or for profit, their use is highly regulated, especially in the United States.

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Below are brief outlines of drone-related issues and questions, followed by links to related resources.

What is a drone? - A drone, which can go by several other names, including unmanned aerial vehicle, unmanned aircraft, or unmanned aircraft system, is an aircraft operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft. If you intend to fly a drone or buy a drone for others, you should become familiar with key drone concepts and definitions.

Where can I fly a drone? - In general, you should fly a drone so it does not interfere with other air traffic, where it has little chance to injure people or damage property, and where the laws or regulations allow that kind of activity. The US, has a variety of restrictions on where you can fly a drone, regulations on drones that are flown for recreation or entertainment, and a different set of rules for drones that are flown for business or commercial purposes.

How big are drones? - While some drones may be small and light, fitting into the palm of your hand, they can be as large as the largest aircraft. In general, the larger and more expensive drones are much more capable than smaller and cheaper drones. Understanding common drone types and drone capabilities will make your drone flying and drone buying experiences less frustrating.

Can a child fly a drone? - It depends on the drone and the child. While flying drones can be fun, even the smallest drone can injure someone if it is not flown properly. Also, larger and more complex drones may by inappropriate for children who are unwilling or unable to do so safely and responsibly. When choosing the right drone, you should consider three things: the person flying the drone, the reasons for flying the drone, and the drone itself.

Do I need any special training before I can fly a drone? - The FAA does not have any training requirements for drone pilots. Whether you are flying a drone for fun or for business, it is up to the person flying the drone to make the effort to learn how to fly a drone safely and well.

What kind of drone should I buy? - The answer to that question depends on what the drone will be used for, and who will be using it. Regardless of what kind of drone you want to get, if you have never flown a drone before start with something basic. There are many options, and you should take some time to consider the types of drones that are widely available them before you choose the drone you want.

Do I have to register a drone? - While rules may be different, or even nonexistent, in other countries, in the US, the FAA requires that all drones heavier than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) must be registered. Fortunately, for most users, the drone registration process in the US is not very complicated.

Do I need a license to fly a drone? - If you are flying a drone for recreational purposes, you don't need a license or any formal training to fly a drone, but you should make the effort to become familiar with the restrictions that may exist in your area. If you are flying a drone for commercial purposes or as part of your business, the person who will be supervising the operation of that drone have to have that drone's flight has to satisfy the FAA requirements for being a certified commercial drone pilot.

What rules do I have to follow if I fly for fun? - Because flying a drone involves flying in airspace that is regulated by the FAA, you have to follow the appropriate set of federal regulations. Drones flown for recreation or as a hobby have to follow one particular set of federal regulations and guidelines commonly referred to as Part 101 regulations.

What rules do I have to follow if I fly for profit? - Drones flown for commercial purposes have to follow a related set of federal regulations and guidelines referred to as Part 107 regulations. Also, pilot flying drones for commercial reasons have to have to successfully pass an FAA test and obtain a remote pilot certificate.

Do I have to register my drone with the government? - It depends on your drone. All drones that weigh more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) must be registered with the FAA, either a registration process for drones that weigh between 0.55 and 55 pounds (25 kg), and a separate process for heavier aircraft. In addition, drone operators must follow relevant state and local laws, particularly those related to privacy, public safety, and noise.

What if I build or customize my own drone? - In the US, the rules and restrictions for drones are the same whether they are purchased from a manufacturer or if they are built or customized by an individual. If the drone is heavier than 0.55 pounds, you must register that drone, and if they are used for commercial purposes, the person responsible for flying the drone must have the appropriate commercial drone pilot license from the FAA. Also, the drone owner must follow the appropriate regulations and requirements for either commercial drone operations, or for non-commercial activities.

Can I bring drones on a plane? - It depends on the drone. Most commercially available drones are powered by batteries, and there are a number of restrictions when it comes to flying with drone batteries, especially if you are packing spare batteries. Also, as is the case with other valuable personal electronic devices like computers, if they are in your checked bag and get lost, stolen, damage, or misplaced, you will likely not get any compensation from the airline. If you have to pack you drone or key drone components in a checked bag, you should take steps to protect your drone in your baggage.

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Common questions about drones -- Revised 12 November 2016