The FAA on Quadcopters

May 2, 2016
In addition to registering with the FAA, quadcopter owners should familiarize themselves with regulations regarding these unmanned aircraft.

Anyone owning a quadcopter or drone weighing more than 0.55 lb (8.8 oz.) must register it with the Federal Aviation Administration if they intend to fly it outdoors, in accordance with FAA regulations. It will cost those owners $5. If the qcopter tips the scales at over 55 lb, including any extra equipment or cameras attached, the FAA no longer considers it a model aircraft or a recreational Unmanned Aircraft System, and a long list of other regulations apply.

Model planes can also not be used for commercial uses or for payment. They can only be used for hobby and recreational uses.

There are not that many other FAA guidelines that quadcopter “pilots” need to follow. Among the few guidelines:
• Quadcopters (or any unmanned recreational aircraft) cannot fly above 400 ft.
• They must remain within sight of the operator.
• Quadcopters cannot fly within 5 miles of an airport without prior FAA approval.
• Quadcopters cannot fly over military bases, national parks, or the Washington, D.C., area and other sensitive government buildings (CIA, NSA, FBI).

The FAA has been hustling to keep up with the widespread use of quadcopters and other radio-controlled planes by expanding its rules and definitions. For example, back in 2014, it extended the ban on planes flying over open-air stadiums with 30,000 or more spectators to cover “unmanned and remote controlled aircraft.” The model aircraft community can expect more regulations as time goes on. In the meantime, the FAA has a blanket regulation that covers unwritten, common-sense-based transgressions. It says, “Flights must not pose a hazard to people or property or other aircraft in the sky.” So flying in and around power lines, over crowds, or through shopping malls can still get you in trouble with the law.

If you have any questions, check out Know Before You Fly, which has guidelines for safely flying recreational radio-controlled aircraft. And the FAA also has an app, B4UFLY, free for downloading in the App Store for iOS and Google Play store for Android. It will let you know of any flight restrictions or requirements that affect the area in which you plan on flying a drone.

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