Drone flying restrictions

Limitations on where and how you can fly a drone vary around the world. In the US, where you can fly a drone depends on whether you are flying it for fun or flying it for profit. While some rules apply to all drones, drones flown for recreational purposes have the most restrictions, and those that are flown for commercial reasons are able to fly in a wider range of areas.

Recreational drone restrictions
Although the FAA can allow someone to fly a drone almost anywhere, it is unlikely that the FAA will do so for someone who is flying their drone for fun. Some of the areas where recreational drone flights are very restricted include:

  • The area around Washington, DC, specifically a circle with a 15 mile-radius centered at Reagan National Airport, an area that would include all of Washington DC, including everything inside of the Beltway (Interstate 495) that surrounds the core of the Washington, DC metropolitan area.
  • National parks,
  • Military bases and other military facilities,
  • Within five miles (eight km) of any airport,
  • In and around stadiums during scheduled events involving the NFL, NCAA Division I football, Major League Baseball; and car races involving NASCAR, Indy Car, and Champ Series races; and
  • Any other place where the FAA has a temporary or permanent flight restriction for drones.

Recreational drones also have an altitude restriction and are required to fly no higher than 400 feet (122 meters) above the ground, unless there are other restrictions that apply. For additional FAA regulations, you should review the FAA's overview of airspace restrictions.

The airport restriction would make it very difficult to fly drones in most urban areas in the US, since these areas typically have one or more large airports offering airline service, as well as several smaller airports serving other kinds of aviation. However, if a drone is both very small and kept below a relatively low altitude (roughly treetop level) it is very unlikely that the drone will either attract the attention of the authorities or represent a risk to other aircraft.

Commercial drone restrictions
Many of the same flight restrictions that apply to recreational drones also apply to commercial drones. The key difference is that the person who is flying the drone (or directly supervising the person flying the drone) has a specific FAA pilot certification that allows for commercial operations. Like the case with recreational drones, the commercial drone operator must be granted permission before flying in controlled or restricted airspace.

One advantage that commercial drone pilots have is that they can operate a drone within 400 feet (122 meters) above or beside a building or structure, even if the tallest part of that building or structure is higher than 400 feet.

The key to flying in an otherwise restricted area is to get permission from the appropriate authority. If that isn't done, a drone pilot runs the risk of getting fined, or receiving some other kind of sanction, and commercial drone pilots may also risk having their certification taken away.

Marijuana and drug restrictions
According to federal regulations, specifically 14 CFR 91.19, no person may operate a civil aircraft, including sUAS (drone) aircraft within the United States with knowledge that narcotic drugs, marijuana, and depressant or stimulant drugs or substances are on board the aircraft, unless it is authorized by by law or by the appropriate federal agency or law. In short, if you are operating an aircraft under Part 101 or Part 107, you are not allowed to have marijuana or other narcotics as cargo, even if you own the aircraft and the drugs are for your own use.

Other restrictions
While the FAA and the US federal government have the most extensive set of restrictions on flying drones, other jurisdictions may have limitations as well. For example, many communities prevent drone operations from parks and publicly owned spaces, but local laws and regulations do not apply to the airspace. This means that you may be able to launch and recover your aircraft from private property near a public park, and fly over that park while not violating local laws related to operating from the park. However, you may be subject to other laws related to noise, privacy, or reckless operations.

Also, if you are standing on private property when you are controlling your drone, you will have to get permission before doing so. However, it is not quite so clear when it comes to flying your drone above private property. Unless you are doing something that is not allowed by law, such as surveillance or taking photos or videos without permission, you will likely be able to legally fly above private property.

Additional drone resources

Drone flying restrictions
http://airsafe.com/issues/drones/restrictions.htm -- Revised 22 September 2016