Flying Drones — Updated regulations for 2021 — what we all need to know.
My name is Michael Anders with Anders Aerial Media, LLC -- I’m a professional drone service provider based in Cape Girardeau. I specialize in aerial photography, agricultural orthomosaic mapping, infrared solar inspection and commercial roof inspections.
See my website: https://573drone.com/ for more information and example projects.
Enough about me! I want to address a few major regulatory changes for 2021 related to flying drones.
Are you flying drones as a hobby? Are you taking aerial photography?
When does the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) consider your flight commercial? That’s what we're here to address today.
Flying a drone is a wonderful hobby -- one that is getting more popular -- maybe you recently purchased a drone and are just learning, or like many of us in our community, have been flying drones for years; we all need to understand the new updated FAA regulations put in place last month (June 2021) that impact us all.
My goal here is to help you understand the drone regulations for hobbyists and when your flights may be considered commercial by the FAA. It might sound strange but — It’s actually based on the intent of each flight -- at the time of the flight.
A common misperception is the FAA small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS, or commonly called a drone) regulations are for commercial flights and do not apply to hobbyists.
Here is the very strict reality -- the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA 14 CFR part 107) actually covers ALL drone operations in the National Airspace (NAS) of the United States.
The only exception is a regulation labeled 44809 -- Exception for limited recreational operations of unmanned aircraft.
This is a small carve-out regulation, approved by Congress in 2018 that allows for hobbyists to enjoy flying an RC airplane or drone -- Key concept is flying only.
The hobbyist remote-pilot must satisfy all 9 conditions listed in the regulation for the flight to be considered recreational. Flights that do not satisfy all 9 conditions are outside the 44809 and are considered commercial requiring the part 107 certification.
The required 9 conditions include:
- You are flying for recreational purposes only. The pure enjoyment of being in the air! If you go out on a beautiful summer day and want to fly for purely personal enjoyment -- that is However, if you have a friend who wants you to take pictures for a charitable event, or you intend to take pictures for the sale of a house, documenting property lines or inspecting a roof, the intention is no longer recreational. Photography/videography shifts the operation beyond just flying for fun -- it’s now “commercial” under FAA part 107. And it has nothing to do with accepting money.
- You must understand and follow “Community Based Organization Guidelines” (CBO). Examples of CBOs include the American Modelers Association (AMA) and the Flite TestCommunity Association (FTCA). You must be able to declare to local law enforcement or the FAA what standards you are using. By the end of 2021, the FAA will publish their own set of recreational standards — more to come soon.
- Maintain Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) -- This actually applies to all drone operations unless an FAA waiver has been granted -- which is rare outside of military operations. It’s okay to look down at your flight controls and survey the area for obstacles occasionally however you must be able to look up and see your aircraft at all times. This also means you can’t fly around a building or tree line and loose VLOS.
- Do not interfere with manned aircraft. At all times you must yield to manned helicopters, balloons and airplanes. My biggest concerns are helicopters and crop-dusters because they fly at lower altitudes. When I fly projects for agriculture, I encounter this often!
- Always check and get airspace authorization. Checking and understanding airspace is critically important. Local law enforcement and the FAA can ask how you determine airspace -- be prepared. There are many apps and websites to get this information. I’ll share some links Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) change every day -- get in the habit of checking airspace. A few weeks ago I was doing a roof inspection in Scott City. I checked the aeronautical charts and found I was within controlled airspace. I had to request airspace authorization before doing the job. This step is important for both the hobbyist and commercial operator alike.
- Always fly below 400 feet. With the exception of aircraft such as helicopters and crop-dusters, most manned aviation should be flying above 500-1000 feet leaving plenty of room for our drone Hobbyists must stay below 400 at all times. Part 107 commercial remote pilots will have different standards.
- Take and pass the FAA exam called TRUST. This is NEW! The Recreational UAS Safety Test is now required for everyone as of June 2021. It’s really not an exam -- I would call it a training session with a knowledge check that takes about 15-30 minutes to complete. By the way, it’s free. You must print or screen capture the certificate and have it available to local law enforcement or the FAA upon request -- yes, even when you are flying for fun. I recommend Part 107 commercial pilots take this as well to cover recreational flights. Again, easy and free.
- Register your drone(s). Every drone weighing 250 grams, roughly half a pound, or more must be registered with the FAA. This includes most drones you can purchase at on-line or in-store If you are flying only recreationally you can register all your drones with the same FAA registration number and it’s good for 3 years. If you intend to fly under the part 107 commercial regulation, each drone must have a unique number. In all cases each registration is only $5. Register on the FAA DroneZone -- link is below. Double check that it’s the .gov website.
- Do not operate in a dangerous manner. This is a no brainer as we want to keep everyone This requirement can be left up to interpretation by local law enforcement or the FAA. One important point is that we all should stay clear of emergency response activities like a residential fire or a traffic accident, flying directly over people (another topic for a longer discussion!), flying over stadiums etc. I guess this regulation is sort of a catch all. As long as we are following each and every rule listed above, we should be good!
Once again -- Ask yourself “why am I flying today?”
- Flying your drone in the park with your family? -- likely recreational as long as the required 9 standards are met.
- Taking aerial photography of the Emerson Bridge at sunset to post on social media? This one could be interpreted both ways.
To get clarification, I contacted Vic Moss — a member of the FAA safety team.
“If you just want to show your photography to friends and followers in social media, it’s recreational. If you want to show it on social media and you’re trying to get viewers to increase your add revenue, that’s commercial. If you’re selling a house and take pictures, even if you’re the agent, that’s commercial. Unless you’re flying 100% recreationally, you must have part 107 certification. And if you don’t, and something happens, your insurance or your company’s insurance will not cover any damages or liabilities.”
There you have it. I really want everyone to enjoy this wonderful hobby and if you are interested in doing aerial photography, I encourage you to pursue the FAA part 107 certification. See the links below.
Send me your questions and comments -- I’m happy to help.
FAA Website for sUAS regulations -- https://www.faa.gov/uas/
Register your drone with FAA: https://faadronezone.faa.gov/
TRUST Exam -- The Recreational UAS Safety Test -- https://www.faa.gov/uas/recreational_fliers/ knowledge_test_updates/
YouTube Video on TRUST
FAA TRUST Recreational Test: Everything you need to know https://youtu.be/MFyfZ6d569s
Aeronautical charts and Airport Facility Maps https://bit.ly/FAA-FacilityMaps
Online training for Part 107 Certification:
The Pilot Institute -- https://bit.ly/Pilot-Institute107
FAA resources -- https://www.faa.gov/uas/commercial_operators/become_a_drone_pilot/
Community Based Organizations -- Recreational Standards
Academy of Model Aeronautics -- https://www.modelaircraft.org/
Flite Test Community Association -- https://ftca.flitetest.com/
The Drone Service Providers Alliance. Drone Service Providers Alliance: Home
Apps for your mobile device -- check your app store
UAV Forecast -- great weather app specifically for sUAS (Small Unmanned Aerial Systems)
Checking air space and getting authorizations
- B4UFLY -- FAA official app
- Aloft (formerly Kittyhawk) -- my favorite to get airspace authorization
- UASidekick -- also very nice!
Flight Liability Insurance for commercial operations
Once you are 107 certified you must purchase insurance -- either per flight or annual.
- SkyWatch -- https://skywatch.ai/us/home
- Verifly (Thimble) -- https://bit.ly/Verifly-Thimble
Anders Aerial Media, LLC
Thank you to the following individuals for your time and expertise in reviewing the contents of this article.
Col (ret) Michael Goodin, USAF
FAA Safety Team
COO — Drone Service Provider Alliance