[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: 50927

Comment by Sgt Ric on May 20, 2009 at 1:03pm
Oops, 1998
Comment by Bill R on May 20, 2009 at 5:47pm
This is the one I was thinking of - all amateur and very small.


How did they do it?
Comment by Patrick Egan on May 20, 2009 at 6:09pm
Yeah, although they (Dave Brown) are talking about dropping the record from the FAI.

Comment by Jordi Muñoz on November 8, 2009 at 12:47am
The link for "rulemaking proceeding" is not working. ;-(
Comment by Patrick Egan on November 8, 2009 at 11:52am
The rulemaking process is slowing down to a snail’s pace. Last public date I’ve heard about the SFAR is fall 2012, and I wouldn’t hold my breath on that!

Comment by Sgt Ric on November 8, 2009 at 12:21pm
Only in America!

Comment by John Church on July 11, 2010 at 2:31pm
"Yes, umm, I was just recreationally earning some money with my UAV..."
Reading through the FAA site on UAV's is quite a disappointment at the moment. I hope the classification rules are moving along up there! I am itching to put these to work small-scale commercially and for the state/local governments and it's disappointing to see our UAVs classified like full scale.
Comment by Patrick Egan on July 11, 2010 at 9:21pm
Pushed out to 2013, or maybe never as King Babbitt had decreed, "Not in my airspace!"
Comment by Marco Glattfelder on July 16, 2010 at 2:46am
I am wondering what the situation in the eu is. Here in Switzerland (not part of the eu) we have the LOS rule with constant rc connection too, but we can fly anything up to 30kg at any height end need to stay away 5 km from airports. Just the video and rf links are overregulated and only poor power is allowed.
Comment by Mike Davis on February 22, 2011 at 12:57pm

While we all want folks to be responsible and to work within reasonable guidelines, it is misleading to state that one is required to stay below 400ft.


AC 91-57 is the referenced document in this case, and I feel it is important to point out that an Advisory Circular (AC) is simply "Advice" from the FAA on what they feel would be best practices.  It is not a regulation, and deviating from this advice will not result in specific consequences.  Even in AC 91-57 the first paragraph states...


This advisory circular outlines, and encourages voluntary compliance with, safety standards for model aircraft operators.


We all clearly want to be aware of any hazards operating our recreational model aircraft might pose, and to operate them with a healthy dose of common sense.  But let's not cloud the waters with misinformation.  There is not currently any regulation, FAR or otherwise that restrict the altitude at which we operate.


That said... if you often see full scale aircraft flying over the area you fly out of, then you will definitely want to limit your altitude to a safe level.


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