- Best practices for flying
- Pre-Flight Checklist
- Flight Environment
- Recommended apps
- Place to fly
- U.S. rules and regulations
Flying a drone without due care can be extremely dangerous and poses a threat to property and to individuals. Because of this, it’s important to always follow best practices and to prepare in advance for any flight. Here are some tips to follow, to ensure safe operation.
- Scope out the area where you want to fly: You should be able to safely take off and land while keeping a significant distance between your drone and other individuals and/or vehicles and traffic. Additionally, according to FAA rules, you must be at least 5 miles away from any airport, unless you have issued a formal notification.
- Watch out for obstacles: You must keep your aircraft in your line of sight at all times and fly no more than 400ft above the ground. This ensures that not only can you see where it’s going, but you can also see other objects moving in the airspace – for example a bird or a helicopter that might be on a collision course with your drone. You should also always make way for other aircraft.
- Take a spotter: While it’s no longer a legal requirement for commercial pilots to have a spotter, it’s always useful to have someone to hand. That way, if you’re focused on footage being delivered in real-time then your spotter can alert you to any dangers that you might have missed.
- Stay focused: Never let the drone out of your sight; and always keep your hands on the controls.
- Practice: Practice makes perfect – make sure that you are comfortable with your device and practice in a wide open setting before taking it into other environments.
- Checklist: Carry a pre-flight checklist with you to run through equipment and safety checks before takeoff – and remember to make sure that your batteries are fully charged.
- Understand the regulations: If your drone weighs over 0.55 lbs, then it must be registered; and if you are flying on a commercial basis, then you must have a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate.
- Purchase liability insurance: For commercial operators, having insurance in place can be extremely important, limiting the potential financial damage to you and your business in a worst case scenario. As a professional or amateur pilot, you might also consider insuring your device.
Before flying you should run through the following list, checking:
- Your flightpath (keeping it 5 miles away from airports and out of other exclusion zones)
- The weather forecast
- If flying commercially that the pilot has a FAA Remote Pilot Airman Certificate and has passed TSA vetting
- Your equipment is in good working order and the software is updated
- The batteries for the device and controller are fully charged and firmly in place
- You’ve got spare batteries
- Your memory card has sufficient spare storage space (and is in the drone before takeoff)
- Your camera is working correctly and the lens cap is removed
- The signal strength
- That GPS data is correct
- That potential obstacles in the environment are noted
- The wind speed
- The takeoff site is clear
Immediately following takeoff, you should hover for a short-time to ensure the device is fully functional and operating as expected before climbing further.
One of the most important things to consider when planning a flight is exactly what the flight environment will be like. This is crucial to ensuring that your flight is safe and legal. Assessing likely hazards will also allow you to prepare for the unforeseen and put contingency plans in place.
- Be aware of airports: According to FAA rules, drone flights should be at least 5 miles away from any airport (unless you have formally notified the airport).
- Light and altitude: You should generally only fly in daylight, to a maximum of 400ft, while keeping the drone in your line of sight. This ensures that you have an early warning if your drone is on a collision path with a bird, an aircraft or another object – and it’s a reason that having a spotter can often come in extremely useful. Also take particular note of any overhead wires or cables in the vicinity.
- Privacy: Many U.S. states have laws forbidding pilots from invading the privacy of others. Avoid flightpaths where the drone may be considered a nuisance or where individuals might come to believe that the drone is violating their privacy. Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi and Texas, for example, all have specific laws regarding privacy and capturing footage or photography of others. More generally, you should not fly over people or crowds.
- Private property: Whether you are able to legally fly over private property is currently a grey area. Many states have specific laws which give individuals grounds for complaint if their privacy has been invaded. Equally, if the drone is being flown recklessly or if it is causing a nuisance then the authorities may direct penalties to the pilot.
Because of this, we recommend erring on the side of caution and setting to minimize the degree of disturbance caused by flights. To prevent misunderstandings ahead of time, you may also want to alert property owners that you will be flying overhead – giving them the chance to either give you permission or request that you do not fly. Many cities also have local laws that forbid the flying of drones, which you should of course take note of.
- Takeoff and landing environment: Your flight will likely be in closest proximity to other people, property and vehicles at the point of takeoff and landing – so make sure that you have a large, even surface which you can take off from without risk of coming into contact with others. After all, drones have powerful rotor blades which can potentially cause significant injuries even when the device is not in flight. Best practice is to generally climb vertically before reaching a safe height at a significant distance above the ground.
- Check out the weather forecast: If the forecast says rain or if there are wind speeds of over 15mph then you likely should not fly. Doing so risks losing control of your drone and potentially either destroying it or causing a collision with another person, object or vehicle – with potentially fatal consequences.
There are a number of smartphone apps available that can be extremely useful for drone pilots
The FAA provides the B4UFLY app to help pilots establish the rules and restrictions that apply to specific airspaces, hence illustrating where you generally can and cannot fly. Pilots can check their current location or can use the app to review other areas in order to plan ahead. The app is available for free and can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and the Google Play store.
AirMap for Drones allows pilots to review airspace rules and regulation in real time for the U.S. as well as for Canada, Germany, Japan, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The app allows you to freely check airspaces and provides real-time alerts for nearby manned aircraft and publicly-shared information about flights around the world. You can also use the app to send digital flight notices to participating U.S. airports and to request digital authorization for commercial operations in LAANC-enabled U.S.-controlled airspaces The app is available from the Apple App Store and the Google Play store – and gets much better reviews than B4UFLY.
UAV Forecast delivers similar functionality to AirMap for Drones but also provides weather forecasts, details of solar activity (Kp) and GPS satellite information. The app is available from the Apple App Store and the Google Play store – and 80% of Android reviews rate it at 4 out of 5 or higher.
Hover provides an international no-fly zone map (using AirMap’s technology) as well as weather information and forecasts (including details on wind speed and direction, precipitation and temperature). The app also allows you to record flight logs and comes with a news feed, covering happenings in the drone space. The app is available from the Apple App Store and the Google Play store.
XDynamics does not own nor is affiliated to any of these apps and should not be held liable or any loss or damages arising from their use.
There are a number of restrictions on where you can fly a drone in the U.S. You cannot fly:
- Within 5 miles of an airport (without notifying the FAA)
- Over military reservations or national parks or in Security Sensitive airspace
- Around sports stadiums, across MLB, the NFL and the NCAA and NASCAR, Indy Car and Champ Series races
- Close to wildfire firefighting operations
- Within 15 miles of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington D.C.
- Over urban areas that prohibit flying
The FAA provides the B4UFLY app to help pilots establish the rules and restrictions that apply to specific locations and airspace, helping you to identify where you can and cannot fly. Pilots can review their current location or can use the app to check other areas in order to plan ahead. The app is available for free and can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and the Google Play store. There are a number of other apps available with similar functionality, as well as other features – details can be found on the Recommended Apps page.
Alternatively, you can take your drone to an Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) flying site. There are 2,500 such sites across the U.S. and they offer amateur pilots a chance to practice and familiarize themselves with their drone – as well a chance to meet other enthusiasts.
Do I need a license to fly a drone?
Only if you want to fly under the FAA Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations (Part 107), which is required for commercial flights, in which case you will need a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate. See our U.S. Rules and Regulations page for more details.
Where can I fly?
The easiest way to check is using the FAA’s B4UFLY app or other equivalents. See our Flight Environment and Recommended Apps pages for more details.
I want to use a drone to monitor my business (but not to sell pictures). Does this qualify as commercial use?
Yes. If you are using the drone as part of your job, or to assist with your business, you should fly under the FAA’s Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations (Part 107) which requires you to have a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate. See our U.S. Rules and Regulations page for more details.
I only want to fly indoors or in my yard – do I need to register my drone?
If you only ever fly indoors, you do not need to register your drone. If you ever fly outdoors, even just in your own yard, and the drone weighs over 0.55 lbs. (250g), then you do need to register the aircraft.
Are there apps that can help me plan flights?
Yes – see our Recommended Apps page for more details.
I am from another country and want to fly a drone in the U.S. What do I need to do?
You need to register any drones you want to fly (see our FAA Registration page) and if you want to fly commercially you will need to fly under the FAA’s Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations (Part 107) and obtain a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate.
Should I buy insurance?
You are not legally required to buy insurance for your drone, but if you plan to use it frequently (and particularly if you plan to fly commercially) then it may be advisable. The aircraft itself may be expensive to replace but you should also take into account your liability when it comes to damaging property or injuring others (which could potentially result in lawsuits worth millions of dollars).
What should I do if I crash my drone or lose it otherwise?
You should likely attempt to retrieve the drone and, if it has crashed on private property, inform the landowner of the incident. If anyone has been injured, contact emergency services immediately.
If your drone is involved in an incident that results in serious injury or property damage costing $500 or more (other than to the drone) then you have to report it to the FAA within 10 days, which you can do here.
If you see someone else flying recklessly or if they crash a drone on your property, injure someone or cause property damage, then call local law enforcement. They will then contact the FAA if required. In other situations, crashes do not need to be reported.
U.S. rules and regulations (Commercial vs. Consumer)
There are various rules and regulations that you must follow when flying a drone – with some differences, depending on whether you are flying under the FAA’s Small UAS Rule (Part 107) or the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (Section 336).
To fly under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (Section 336) you must:
- Only fly on a recreational basis (commercial applications include being paid for flying or flying as part of your job – if you ever do either of these things, you must fly under Part 107)
- Register your aircraft with the FAA (with registration costing $5 and lasting three years) – see the FAA Registration Process page
- Mark your aircraft with your registration number
- Fly only within visual line of sight
- Follow community-based safety guidelines and fly within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization
- Only fly drones weighing under 55 lbs. (25kg) unless otherwise certified
- Never fly near or approach other aircraft
- Never fly near emergency response efforts
- Do not fly within five miles of an airport without alerting the relevant authorities (the FAA offers a resource for finding contact details for airports here)
- Obey all other relevant rules and regulations regarding where you can and cannot fly – see the Places to Fly page
- Follow local and state laws regarding privacy
If flying under the Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations (Part 107) you must:
- Keep your drone within sight and visual range
- If using a First Person View, have a spotter observing the aircraft without visual assistance
- Fly in a safe manner
- Only fly aircraft weighing under 55 lbs. (25kg)
- The pilot and the spotter can be responsible for only single aircraft
- Avoid manned aircraft
- Never fly above 400ft (or, if over a structure, no more than 400ft above that)
- Remain at least 25ft away from people and buildings
- Never fly in weather conditions that limit visibility to less than three miles
- Never fly above 100mph (87 knots)
- Only fly during daylight or 30 minutes before sunrise or after sunset
- Do not fly over other people
- Do not fly under a covered structure or inside a covered stationary vehicle
- Do not fly from a moving aircraft
- Flying from a moving vehicle is only permitted in sparsely populated areas
- Operations in Class B, C, D and E airspace require ATC approval
- The aircraft can carry an external load only if it is securely attached and does not adversely affect the flight and the aircraft and cargo weigh no more than a total of 55 lbs. (25kg)
- You must perform a preflight visual and operational check of the aircraft and ensure all safety systems are functioning correctly
- Follow local and state laws regarding privacy
- Obey all rules and regulations regarding where you can and cannot fly – for example, within five miles of an airport; see the Places to Fly page for more details
- Allow the FAA access to your drone for inspection or testing on request
- Report any incidents that result in serious injury or property damage of $500 or more to the FAA within 10 days (with property damage not including damage to the drone itself)
- Do not fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol or when otherwise impaired
- And you must individually register each aircraft with the FAA – see the FAA Registration Process page
Many of these restrictions can be waived for a specific flight with permission from the FAA.
- Remote Pilot Airman Certificate: To fly under Part 107, you need a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate or to be under the supervision of someone who holds such a certificate
- To qualify for this, you must be 16 years old or older
- You must pass an aeronautical knowledge exam at a FAA-approved testing center
- And you must then pass a TSA security background check
- You may also qualify if you hold a Part 61 pilot certificate other than student pilot; have completed a flight review in the previous 24 months; and are able to complete a small UAS online training course