Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about where you can legally fly drones as a hobby user. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.
I was hoping to get some info on flying my drone around Twin Peaks in San Francisco. My city is covered in helipads. Can I still fly there? Can I fly over a bridge if there is a big international shipping port nearby?
This week’s “Ask Drone Girl” question is not just one question, but a culmination of what is 100s of reader emails I get! People want to fly in a specific area, but aren’t sure if they legally can!
This post will (hopefully) answer all of those emails, once and for all! Note that this post is directed at people flying as hobby pilots, meaning you aren’t making a business out of your drone pilot (if you’re flying for commercial purposes, you need to fly under Part 107).
But if you simply have a drone that you want to take on your vacation to grab great photos for your social media profile, this is for you! Here’s your guide to knowing whether you can legally fly your drone, anywhere in the United States — in just 3 steps.
Step 1: Check Know Before You Fly. Know Before You Fly is a website founded by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) and the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration, so you can assure the data on the site is accurate.
To use it, simply go to this page and scroll down to the “Flying Sites Map.” Input the address of where you intend to fly, and you’ll likely get a clear “yay” or “nay.”
Step 2. Determine what the colors mean. I’ve input the address of Drone Girl headquarters, and alas! There is a huge black circle around it. That’s probably a sign I can’t drone there.
I’ve clicked on the circle, and it turns out, there’s a Temporary Flight Restriction. Why? There’s a Giants game happening right now (the FAA prohibits flying drones near major sporting events, and Drone Girl headquarters happens to be about a mile from AT&T Park, where the Giants play).
Step 3. Scroll down on that same “Know Before You Fly” page to find out what the other colors mean. The webpage has a legend to explain other colors. Dark yellow indicates an airport, meaning hobby pilots should give notice for flights within 5 statute miles of an airport. Dashed yellow indicates a heliport, which means that while you can still fly there, you should be particularly alert to helicopter traffic in the area — and always yield to manned air traffic.
So your flight can legally take place in your area? Great! Just make sure you also adhere to all hobby drone laws.
- Your drone must be registered. Registration costs $5 and lasts 3 years. Register with the FAA here.
- Adhere to the following guidelines. (Note, these are guidelines, and the FAA is not legally able to enforce them):
- Keep your drone in eyesight at all times, and use an observer to assist if needed
- Remain clear of manned aircraft
- Do not intentionally fly over unprotected persons or moving vehicles, and remain at least 25 feet away from individuals and vulnerable property
- Contact the airport and control tower before flying within five miles of an airport or heliport. (Read about best practices here)
- Do not fly in adverse weather conditions such as in high winds or reduced visibility.
- Do not fly under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Do not fly near or over sensitive infrastructure or property such as power stations, water treatment facilities, correctional facilities, heavily traveled roadways, government facilities, etc.
- Check and follow all local laws and ordinances before flying over private property.
Make sense? Then get out there and happy flying (just check Know Before You Fly first!).