On April 18th, 2017

Drones over Spring Break – Did you check your airspace?

Luckily, I was able to take some time with my family this past weekend to enjoy some time at the beach. Spring Break is a popular time to hit the beaches and the proliferation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (aka drones) adds a new dimension to the experience. For some, there is a strong temptation to bring their drones with them on Spring Break, as it may be their first real opportunity to get it out in the open after the winter – perhaps receiving it as a gift for Christmas only a few months ago.

The utility of drones and their video capability could be both useful and entertaining during Spring Break. I remember seeing a video of someone launching a UAS off the beach at Fort Lauderdale, flying the drone out to a cruise ship, circling the cruise ship, and returning to the beach. At the time, I thought the concept was amazing and the video seemed professional – something you only used to be able to shoot from helicopters. As I researched the cruise ship I was about to board in a few months, the video helped me to visualize the experience ahead of time. I can imagine other uses of drones for entertainment purposes on Spring Break, like recording video of sunrises or sunsets, dolphin watching, and other shots from an elevated perspective.

If you are planning on flying a drone at Spring Break (or already did), did you check your airspace? Yes, the Federal Aviation Administration considers all drones to be aircraft.  As a result, you are required to register your drone with the FAA and fly responsibly. This means that you have to be aware of your proximity to an airport before flying for fun (and whether you are in controlled airspace if flying drones for business). If flying for fun, FAA’s B4UFly app will let you know if you are within 5 miles of an airport, where you are required to notify the air traffic control tower of your planned flight. If you are further than 5 miles from an airport, you are generally allowed to fly under 400 feet without notifying air traffic control. There also may be local laws in your State or Municipality regarding the use of drones on public property.

Are you making money flying your drone? If so, you are flying for business and your operation is covered under Part 107 of the FAA Reauthorization Act (14 CFR Part 107), which requires you to attain authorization prior to flight in controlled airspace. So, you must also be aware of whether you are in controlled airspace and the specific rules for drone flight in that classification of airspace (things not provided by the B4UFly app).

And even when you do register your drone with the FAA and appropriately notify air traffic control or gain authorization to fly, there are still other restrictions that you will need to obey. For instance, you are not permitted to fly over people, at night, in a “swarm,” or beyond visual line of sight. If you’d like to attain a waiver for any of these restrictions, you will have to request it through the FAA, which may take a fair amount of paperwork and numerous weeks, or even months.

Remember, if you are flying your drone, you are required to give way to manned aircraft. But, there may also be other unmanned aircraft that you need to look out for. Be safe and diligent in your piloting and check your airspace!