[These are Frequently Asked Questions about the current state of UAV regulation in the US. Regulations elsewhere are different, but here is a similar post giving the rules for Canada.]

Q: Are UAVs legal in the United States?

A: Under certain conditions, they are. There are two ways to legally fly Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in the "National Airspace", which is to say all but certain restricted areas: 1) Get a Certificate of Authorization (COA) from the FAA, a process that can take months or more. 2) Fly under exemptions granted to non-commercial ("recreational") flyers who adhere to certain restrictions. More detail is here.

Q) What are those restrictions for non-commercial UAVs flying without a COA?

A: You MUST do the following: 1) Stay below 400ft. 2) Maintain a "pilot in control", which is to say that you must always be able to take manual control and fly the aircraft out of danger (in general, that means maintaining line-of-sight contact with the aircraft). 3) Stay away from built-up areas. More detail is here.

Q) Who can apply for a COA?

A: Typically only government agencies (Law enforcement, Civil government, etc). This is not an option for a private individual.

Q) I've heard that the FAA doesn't allow unmanned aircraft with cameras and/or GPS. True?

A) No. Commercial use of aircraft with cameras is regulated as above, but aircraft flying under the recreational exemption may use cameras and GPS.

Q) What countries have more relaxed UAV regulations?

A) Australia and New Zealand are famously progressive in their UAV policies. Other countries, such as Mexico, have been know to be relatively friendly, too.

Q) What are the prospects for FAA regulations that allow amateur UAVs more freedom?


A) There is currently a rulemaking proceeding that aims to improve the regulations on UAVs. It will take a while; indeed, you shouldn't hope for anything before 2010-2012. There may be a special category for UAVs under 4 pounds, which may be more lightly regulated. But then again there may not. It's all up in the air, so to speak, and the forces that oppose amateur or commercial UAVs in the National Airspace are many and powerful. Speak up!

Q) What about universities and other students. Any exemptions for them?


A) Not automatically. But they may be able to get COAs more easily if they are federally funded and go through that agency.

Q) What if I break the rules?

A) Well, for starters, we don't want to hear about it here! We realize, of course, that people break the rules all the time on the assumption that if they use good judgment and stay away from built-up areas, they won't be caught. That may indeed be the case, but it will only take one cowboy flying a UAV into an airport landing zone and endangering civil aviation to set our hobby back by decades. So please don't do it! (Plus you could go to jail)

Q) Okay, I'm obeying all the rules. Are there any other guidelines for safe and responsible UAV operations?

A) Yes. RCAPA (the RC aerial photography association) has some excellent guidelines that are a great place to start.

Views: 37618

Comment by Venom57 on December 26, 2008 at 7:48am
Also, RCAPA offers additional insurance over what AMA might cover. Worth looking into if you are doing AP, especially on larger platforms.
Comment by Andy Geppert on January 4, 2009 at 2:20pm
That is a nice summary Chris, and pretty accurate from what I've seen. I've been looking through this information and I wonder if anyone knows of an exemption for a glider (NO ENGINE) to be released from a helium balloon well above US Airspace and gliding down through controlled airspace autonomously (with remote control backup of course)? I would think (and that may be the problem) that returning the payload to earth with a glider exhibiting directionally controlled flight versus a parachute would be preferred and allowed. Or does it become a no-go as soon as you put "wings" on the payload? Would a steerable parachute be acceptable? If any of you have answers or comments on this, please respond. Thanks!
Comment by Venom57 on January 4, 2009 at 3:43pm
I've got an ex-co-worker who has done the weather balloon thing to 80K feet. He's a HAM radio operator, not that that should matter, but he did have to file the flight plan "release balloon and watch it rise" with the FAA. He did not release anything from it.
Comment by Doran on January 28, 2009 at 12:25am
Canada seems to be a little more liberal in this regard. In my brief web searches for direction on this topic I have come across this link:
http://www.tc.gc.ca/civilaviation/general/recavi/Brochures/uav.htm

According to my reading of the information, these drones we build and fly must be under 35 kg (roughly 77 lbs) and be operated for recreational purposes. Beyond that it is just common sense rules like "You break it, you pay for it.", but Transport Canada won't get involved. Of course standard government rules apply as well like "if something bad happens and it ends up on the nightly news, expect many knocks on your door."
Comment by Andy Geppert on January 29, 2009 at 8:24am
Doran, Canada sounds like it might be an option for us. That is an interesting angle - thanks for bringing that up.

I emailed the AMA about RC glider altitude limits. I can't imagine they are subject to the 400 ft AGL rule as powered RC aircraft are, but there must be some limit.
Comment by Luis Pulido on February 14, 2009 at 8:41pm
So. We couldn't build an amateur DIY launch rocket or something? Say, if we could send an object so high it's in equilibrium and can stay up... something like a pseudo-satellite. I wonder how tall the "airspace" is from the ground. If we go to international waters the same rules apply?. Maybe it sounds hard but I thing someday we could launch them.

T3
Comment by Krzysztof Bosak on April 9, 2009 at 3:30pm
Is participating in diydrones legal?
'We disseminate details about potentially dangerous technology.' ;-) There are many ppl interested in launching the UAV, but nobody talks about recovery. There are many questions about GPS precision.
Bad jokes aside.
Dean (attopilot maker) was advised removing his post from rcgroups before going commercial (somehow it stayed in place).
I would like to know approximatively how far US/Intl governmental paranoia reaches.
Comment by Bill R on May 20, 2009 at 8:33am
I read a few years ago about someone sending a RC plane from the USA to England. This was done autonomously, except for the take-off and landing. I could never get many details on how it was done, only that there was some satellite communication involved, and a GPS. Anyone have any details about this?
Comment by Patrick Egan on May 20, 2009 at 11:46am
Do you mean this?
http://www.aerovelco.com/papers/LaimaStory.pdf

Moderator
Comment by Sgt Ric on May 20, 2009 at 12:57pm
Yes, the Aerosonde made the first autonomous cross-Atlantic flight in 1999.

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