The FAA released new information on May 16, 2019 affecting recreational drone flight as mandated by Congress in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. The change modifies how drone flyers request authorization to fly near airports and in any controlled airspace. It also requires drone flyers to pass an aeronautical knowledge and safety test, maintain proof that they passed, and make it available to the FAA or law enforcement upon request.

Our best tip for safely and legally flying a drone is to become a Part 107 certified drone pilot; this will provide you with an FAA Remote Pilot certificate that you can keep with you at all times, just like a driver’s license (think of it as your drone license). Studying for the Part 107 certificate will also provide a deeper knowledge of topics like airspace that have been adjusted with this latest mandate.

While recreational flyers may continue to fly below 400 feet in uncontrolled airspace without specific certification or operating authority from the FAA, they are now required to obtain prior authorization from the FAA before flying in controlled airspace around airports. Furthermore, they must comply with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions when flying in controlled and uncontrolled airspace.

The new requirement to obtain an airspace authorization prior to flying a drone in controlled airspace replaces the old requirement to notify the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower prior to flying within five miles of an airport.

Until further notice, air traffic control facilities will no longer accept requests to operate recreational drones in controlled airspace on a case-by-case basis. Instead, to enable operations under the congressionally-mandated exception for limited recreational drone operations, the FAA is granting temporary airspace authorizations to fly in certain “fixed sites” in controlled airspace throughout the country. The fixed sites are listed online and will be routinely updated.

The sites are also shown as blue dots on Unmanned Aircraft Systems Facility Maps. The maps depict the maximum altitude above ground level at which a drone may be flown safely for each location in controlled airspace.

In the future, recreational flyers will be able to obtain authorization from the FAA to fly in controlled airspace. The FAA currently has a system called the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC), which is available to non-recreational pilots who operate under the FAA’s small drone rule (Part 107). The FAA is upgrading LAANC to allow recreational flyers to use the system. For now, however, recreational flyers who want to operate in controlled airspace may only do so at the fixed sites.

Another new provision in the 2018 Act requires recreational flyers to pass an aeronautical knowledge and safety test. They must maintain proof that they passed and make it available to the FAA or law enforcement upon request. The FAA is currently developing a training module and test in coordination with the drone community. The test will ensure that recreational flyers have the basic aeronautical knowledge needed to fly safely.

Some requirements have not changed significantly. In addition to being able to fly without FAA authorization below 400 feet in uncontrolled airspace, recreational users must:

  • Register their drones
  • Fly within visual line-of-sight
  • Avoid other aircraft at all times
  • Comply with all FAA airspace restrictions and prohibitions

Additionally, recreational flyers can continue to fly without obtaining a remote pilot certificate provided they meet the eight statutory conditions of Section 349 of the Act, which are described in a Federal Register notice.

If recreational flyers do not meet any of the conditions, they could choose to operate under Part 107 with a remote pilot certificate. Drone operators who fail to comply with the appropriate operating authority may be subject to FAA enforcement action. Furthermore, flying a drone carelessly or recklessly may also result in FAA enforcement action.

The FAA will help recreational flyers learn and understand the changes by posting updates and additional guidance, including regulatory changes, on the FAA website. If you are thinking about buying a drone, the FAA can help you get started with registration and important safety information.

The FAA shared the new regulation and also updated its recreational flyers page with detailed instructions for flying drones. The FAA provided the following recommendations for recreational drone flight.

You are considered a recreational user if you fly your drone for fun. It is important to know when and where you can fly and how to register your drone.

As a recreational flyer, here’s what you need to do:

  • Register your drone, mark it on the outside with the registration number, and carry proof of registration with you.

  • Fly only for recreational purposes.

  • Follow the safety guidelines of a community based organization.

  • Fly your drone at or below 400 feet when in uncontrolled or “Class G” airspace. This is airspace where the FAA is not controlling manned air traffic. To determine what type of airspace you are in, refer to the mobile application that operates your drone (if so equipped) and/or use other drone-related mobile applications. Knowing your location and what airspace you’re in will also help you avoid interfering with other aircraft.

Do NOT fly in controlled airspace (around and above many airports) unless:

  • You are flying at a recreational flyer fixed site that has an agreement with the FAA. The FAA has posted a list of approved sites and has depicted them as blue dots on a map. Each fixed site is limited to the altitude shown on this map, which varies by location.

Airspace restrictions can be found on this interactive map. Click to open link.

Things all drone flyers should avoid:

  • Keep your drone within your line of sight, or within the visual line-of-sight of a visual observer who is co-located and in direct communication with you.

  • Do NOT fly in airspace where flight is prohibited. Airspace restrictions can be found on an interactive map, and temporary flight restrictions can be found here. Drone operators are responsible for ensuring they comply with all airspace restrictions.

  • Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports.

  • Never fly over groups of people, public events, or stadiums full of people.

  • Never fly near emergencies such as any type of accident response, law enforcement activities, firefighting, or hurricane recovery efforts.

  • Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Recreational flyers should know that if they intentionally violate any of these safety requirements, and/or operate in a careless and reckless manner, they could be liable for criminal and/or civil penalties. Read the Authorization for limited recreational operations as described in section 44809. All limited recreational operations should be conducted in accordance with this authorization.

Finally, Gleim would like to note that the FAA created a dedicated Educational Users webpage for teachers and students that recommends first flying under Part 107 rather than as a recreational user. You can review our STEM Resource Hub for more information about classroom instruction.