How to buy a drone
Buying a drone, which are also called by other names such as unmanned aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicles, come in a wide range of sizes, styles, and capabilities. There are many retailers, both online and traditional, that sell drones that are fully functional and ready to fly. Before you buy, especially if you have never purchased a drone before, you should know a few basic things about the reality of buying drones.
What is a drone? - A drone is a general term for an aircraft that can be flown remotely using some kind of controller that uses radio signals for communications.
What kinds of drones can I buy? - Depending on your needs or your wants, you can buy drones that are small enough to fit in your hand that cost less than $50, to much larger drones that could cost thousands of dollars and has the capability to carry cameras and other cargo. The most popular style of drone is one that has four small helicopter type rotors, called a quadcopter. This design allows the drone to hover or fly very slowly, making it easier for someone who has never flown any kind of aircraft to get used to the experience.
Where can I buy a drone? - Drones are widely available online and in retail stores around the world.
Do I have to get permission to buy a drone? - Laws and regulations are different in different countries, but in the US, anyone can buy a small drone (weighing less than 0.55 pounds or 250 grams) without any kind of restriction. If you are buying In the US, all drones heavier than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) must be registered with the FAA by someone (typically the person who purchased the drone) who is at least 13 years old. The FAA has a separate process for drones that weigh between 0.55 and 55 pounds (250 grams and 25 kg), and a separate process for those that weigh at least 55 pounds. Drones weighing less than 0.55 pounds do not have to be registered in the US.
What kind of a drone should I get? - This depends on what you want to do with the drone. If you are buying a drone just for fun or as a gift for a child, then there are many low-cost drones that will give you or someone else the experience of flying a drone. Because they are very small and very light, accidents involving this type of drone will likely not cause property damage or injuries. While larger and more expensive drones have advanced capabilities like automated flight modes and built in video cameras, if these are the kinds of capabilities that you want or need, it may be a good idea to get some experience flying very small drones before moving up to larger and more complex drones.
How much should I spend? - The size of your drone will depend on what you plan to do with your drone. Desirable capabilities include things like having the ability to record high quality video, satellite based navigation capabilities, and being able to control the drone at a significant distance. Many popular drones have these kinds of capabilities, and you should compare the capabilities and the costs of these options when you are making your decision.
Do I have to register my drone? - Laws and regulations vary around the world, but in the US, any drone that weighs more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams), has to be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Also, the person registering the drone must be at least 13 years old. This means that if you buy a drone for a child, you or some other responsible person will have to go through the FAA registration process. Fortunately, you only need to register one time, and that same registration number can be applied to every drone that you buy in the future. To keep things simple, if you are buying a drone for someone younger than 13, simply buy one that weighs less than 0.55 pounds.
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.
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. You should however be familiar with the restrictions that may exist in your area. For example, in the US, drone flights are not allowed in national parks, over or near airports, at sporting events, or in restricted areas like military bases without first getting permission to do so. If you are flying a drone for commercial purposes or as part of your business, you have to have that drone's flight supervised by someone who has been certified by the FAA to operate a drone for a commercial purpose.
Do I need permission to fly a drone? - It depends on what kind of flying that you are doing and where you are doing it. If you are buying a lower priced drone, they don't fly very high and have a very short operating range, so if you plan to fly it indoors, in your yard, or even in a local park, you won't need any permission. In the US, tere are some places that ban drones, such as airports, stadium or arenas during a sporting contest, or on military bases or national parks, that may make it clear that drones are not allowed. If you are flying your drone for a job or in connection with a business, or if you are flying a higher performance drone that can fly several hundred feet in the air or can fly relatively long distances, the FAA has a series or requirements, both for the drone and the drone pilot, that have to be met.
What if I build 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 created by an individual. If they are heavier than 0.55 pounds, they must be registered, and if they are used for commercial purposes, the person responsible for flying the drone must have the appropriate license from the FAA.
Can I mail or ship my drone? - If you purchased a drone that was shipped or mailed to you, if you keep it in the original packaging from the manufacturer, you can probably mail it or ship it domestically without doing anything special. If you are shipping it overseas, ask your shipper or postal service to see what requirements, if any, you have to meet for shipment to another country. Also, before you send a drone to another country, make sure that you are not breaking any laws in the country of origin, the destination country, and any other country the package may have to pass through.
Other drone resources
http://airsafe.com/issues/drones/buying.htm -- Revised 18 September 2016