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Drone Laws in Virginia: Detailed Guide (2022)

Updated in 2022 by Paul Posea
Virginia (2)

Virginia is a beautiful state with a lot to offer. The state has many things to see, including the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park, and Virginia Beach. There are also many historical sites, such as Monticello and Mount Vernon. All these are drone-friendly areas where you can take your drone for a spin. With the rise in drone popularity, the state has seen an influx of drone pilots.

This influx has seen the state legislate some laws governing the use of drones in the state. These laws are not too different from other states and are meant to ensure the safety of everyone while still allowing people to enjoy their drones.

The state of Virginia controls all drone operations by following regulations from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Additionally, the Virginia General Assembly has enacted more laws to guide the safety of drone operations in the state of Virginia.

You must be at least 16 years old to fly a drone in Virginia. It is also illegal to fly a drone near an airport or other airspace. You must keep your drone within sight at all times, and you cannot fly over people or property without permission.

However, in case of a conflict between the state law and the FAA, then the FAA regulations take the upper hand. The Virginia General Assembly and the Virginia Department of Transport legislated the following laws for the regulation and safe use of drones.

The Virginia Drone Bills Statutes:

A. 15.2-926.3 Regulation by local politicians 

Politicians in the local government may not control the use of a privately owned UAS within its boundaries. However, the politician may regulate the use of the UAS if it lands or takes off on his property. It is prohibited to operate the unmanned aircraft system in their land without their consent.

Nonetheless, special cases are allowed to operate the drone on the political subdivision’s property. These are:

-Take-off or landing on the said property in case of emergency or maintenance and support of critical infrastructure.

-In case of a technical malfunction of an unmanned aircraft that was following the FAA guidelines.

-The operation of a drone by a sworn public safety officer while doing his work.

-The take-off or landing of a drone by a person working in an agency of the United States government while performing his duties.

B.  19.2-60.1  A search warrant is required for use of a UAS by the local criminal law enforcers.

This law states that law enforcement agencies cannot use drones to search a suspected criminal’s property without a search warrant issued under the law. However, this is only exceptional in special circumstances, such as: 

  • Where an Amber alert, Senior alert, or a Blue alert is activated 
  • Where the drone will help to mitigate any danger of harm to any person, including the police officers
  • Where an accident has taken place and the police officer requires a drone to capture the images or video and survey the scene with the help of a UAS.
  • By the transport department to help an officer collect an accident report before the arrival of the police officer.
  • During the training on how to use a drone during the above scenarios.
  • If someone with the legal authority gives the order for a search with a warrant.

Law enforcers can also use a drone to survey the area suspected to be a criminal hideout before planning how to issue the arrest warrant. It is also within the rights of the police to use the drone in case they lose track of a person during a hot pursuit.

C. Evidence that is collected using a drone in violation of the warranty law cannot be used in court during a civil or criminal case.

D. An unmanned aircraft system may not be weaponized and deployed in the commonwealth by a state department official.

 E. These laws will not apply to the Armed Forces of the United States or the Virginia National Guard when using drones for training. 

F. 1. A person jailed on or after July 1, 1994 either as an adult or juvenile 2. A person found not guilty because of insanity on or after July 1, 2007, and 3. Sex offenders and a person charged with crimes against minors.

It is unlawful for the above groups of people to operate drones with the intention of:  

  • Following or contacting another person without their consent.
  • Capturing the photo of another person without their consent.  

It is unlawful for a respondent of a protective order because of violence, threat, or criminal offense, to use a drone to capture the image, contact or follow the petitioner or any other person in the protective case.   

Violation of the above will make you guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor.

Use of drones in Virginia state parks

Drones are out of bounds in Virginia State parks and forests, just as they are in federal parks. The policy cites concerns about noise, safety and privacy. This is especially relevant given that Virginia is home to world-renowned Shenandoah National Park.

It is against the law to use a drone in all Virginia state parks or property owned by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). The only exception is for research-based activities or commercial purposes with a special permit from the DCR.

You can fly a drone in the Fairfax County Parks in Northern Virginia, provided you follow all the FAA regulations on drone use. The Fairfax parks where you can fly a drone are Fountainhead Regional Park and Burke Lake Park. For hobbyists who would want to fly their drones in cultural reserves and parks, it is important to consult the state park district before operating within any state park. 

Flying drones/UAS/UAVs in the National parks in the state of Virginia is also against the law.

Where to fly your Drone in Virginia

Virginia has no shortage of scenic natural terrain and striking urban skylines begging to be captured. Unfortunately, there are many restrictions on where you can launch and operate drones to capture these breathtaking shots. Below are a few permitted areas.

  • Burke Lake Park

This is a class G airspace, meaning you’re free to fly your drone but ensure you operate under the FAA rules at all times. The burke lake has fitness trails excellent if you aim to shoot fitness footage. It also has park rides and visible clean trails.

  • Fountainhead Regional Park

This is also an uncontrolled airspace under class G. Explore the 1994 acres of hiking, bridle, and bike trails with a view of the Occoquan reservoir with your drone. The trails are fantastic for walking, horse rides, and mountain bikes.

  • Mount Trashmore Park in Virginia Beach

This is a former landfill turned into a park. It falls under class G airspace, and you are free to explore the scenic man-made mountains and pristine lake views with your drone. The area has expansive sceneries like Lake Trashmore, lake Windsor and Thalia Creek, which offers unique vantage points for adventurous pilots.

  • Oak Grove Lake Park

The spectacular landscape provides great aerial footage sites for drone operators. Oak Grove Lake Park has mature trees and a generous hike trail with stunning views that make it the perfect area to explore—not forgetting its an uncontrolled airspace.

  • Great Bridge Lock Park

Located at the point where the Elizabeth River meets Chesapeake Canal and the Albemarle, the view is fantastic. If you love boat and yacht shoots, the excellent bridge lock park has the right amount of boat traffic. It falls under class G airspace, so you’re free to explore the scenic area.

  • The Virginia Beach fishing pier

This attraction in Virginia Beach graces you with stunning scenes of the Atlantic Ocean, and the long wooden bridge extention to the ocean, adds a striking beauty. However, it’s a Class D airspace meaning you have to get prior approval.

Flying drones for recreational purposes in Virginia

Recreational flying of crones in Virginia is common and generally allowed, providing the other aforementioned guidelines are followed. That said, there have been a few instances where authorities have taken action against drone operators for flying in busy or unsafe areas.

You can fly a drone for fun in Virginia provided it is less than 55 pounds and you are flying within sight of the aircraft. You must also avoid flying over congested areas or people, and you cannot fly within five miles of an airport.

To be on the safe side, follow these rules by the FAA:

  1. Follow the safety guidelines provided by the FAA.
  2. Do not use the drone for any other purpose other than recreation.
  3. Do not fly the unmanned aircraft over any person who is not part of the operation or inside a moving vehicle that is covered.
  4. Do not obstruct or interfere with any flight with a crew.
  5. Fly your drone where you can see it, or use the help of another person next to you to observe it.
  6. Fly below 400 feet. Find out if it is an unprohibited space, as there are certain spaces prohibited by the FAA.
  7. Take and pass the Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST).
  8. Do not fly near sensitive infrastructure.
  9. Do not interfere with police or military operations.
  10. Operate during the daytime only.
  11. On the ground, the drone must only do a maximum speed of 100 mph.
  12. You may only pilot one drone at a time.
  13. You should not carry unsafe material.
  14. You should not fly a drone if you have any medical condition, mental or physical, that may interfere with the safe operations of the UAS.
  15. Avoid careless operation of your drone, including operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Drones for work or business operations in Virginia are approved under the Part 107 FAA guidelines. The general federal drone rules in Virginia for commercial pilots apply but are subject to a waiver. Here are three critical drone rules for commercial pilots:

  • Know the rules.

Familiarize yourself with the FAA Part 107 guidelines. Some commercial operations are not allowed in part 107, but are subject to a waiver. These include operating from a moving vehicle, using visual observers, operating over crowds, and operating multiple UAS.

  • Be an FAA-certified drone pilot.

You have to pass the Aurenotical knowledge test by FAA and attain a certificate to fly as a commercial drone pilot. To be eligible for the test, you should be above 16 years, read, write, understand English, and be physically and mentally fit.

  • Register your drone with the FAA.

The registration process is simple. Visit the FAA registration portal and follow the prompts. Once registered, mark your drone with the given registration number.

State drone laws in Virginia

These are statutes/bills drafted by the Virginia General Assembly and apply to the entire state of Virginia.

This bill classifies the use of UAS to peep or spy over private property as trespass and marks it as a class 1 misdemeanor; thus, subject to penalties for the drone pilot. 

  • SB 873: Emergency interference

The bill gives the chief officer in the fire department the authority to maintain order at a fire emergency incident, including the immediate airspace.  

The bill prevents the local authorities from regulating the use of registered private drones.

The statute indicates that a law enforcement agency should obtain a warrant before using a UAS for whatsoever purpose with teh excemption of some circumstances. 

This bill prohibits any drone operations over Virginia state parks unless the pilot has special permission from the FAA. Only research or commercial-based drone operations can apply for this special use permit.

However, Fairfax country parks in Northern Virginia allow drones without a prior permit. You still need to have the registration mark, proof of TRUST passage and adhere to the FAA guidelines.

Can you operate drones for commercial purpose in Virginia?

Drones can be used commercially in Virginia with a permit from the state Department of Aviation. The permit process is detailed and includes requirements for safety, training and insurance.

You can operate a drone for commercial purposes in the state of Virginia by following the FAA part 107 regulations of flying an unmanned aircraft. Confirm any special licenses, additional permissions, and clearance from the Virginia state jurisdiction.

  1. You should either hold a certificate to operate the unmanned aircraft, or be under the direct supervision of a person holding the same. To get the drone license, you must:
  • Be 16 years of age.
  • Be able to speak and write English.
  • Pass a drone pilot test at a drone pilot knowledge center approved by the FA. Alternatively, if you are a part 61 pilot certificate holder, you are required to complete a flight review and take an online UAS training provided by the FAA.

      2.  Register your drone for a $5 fee valid for three years.

  1. The drone should weigh less than 55 pounds.
  1. Avoid flying near airports or flying aircraft.
  2. Do not operate an unmanned aircraft system from a moving vehicle or aircraft.
  3. Report to the FAA any damage to property amounting to $500 or serious injuries caused by a drone. Do this within 10 days after the incident.
  4. The drone should not be used to carry any dangerous material.

Other notable regulations regarding drone use in Virginia include:

1. Spying or peeking at an occupied building with your drone:

It is a class 1 misdemeanor to attempt to secretly look into someone’s home with the purpose of either spying or peeping without their permission. This is an invasion of privacy.

2. Trespassing with a drone:

Any person who controls his unmanned aircraft system into the property of another and flies it within 50 feet of a house risks being guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor. 

Taking off or landing your drone in UAS Security Sensitive Airspace will also make you guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor.

3. Hazardous situations

 A fire chief has the authority over a drone in hazardous situations, such as a fire or explosion. If you interfere with the immediate airspace with your drone, you can be guilty of a class 4 misdemeanor.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Can I shoot down a drone in Virginia?

No, you cannot shoot down a drone. Virginia's national transportation safety board categorizes drones as aircraft and, thus, subject to protection. Similar laws that prevent you from shooting down a 747 applies to drones. 

Is it legal to fly a drone over residential areas in Virginia? 

No. Flying a drone over private property without the owner’s permission or secretly filming, or attempting to spy is considered trespass. Thus, a class 1 misdemeanor, and it’s illegal. You'll be subject to criminal charges.

Is it okay to fly a drone at night?

Yes. However, different laws and regulations apply depending on your purpose for flying at night and the region you chose to fly it. In addition to the general FAA guidelines, drones must be fitted with anti-collision lighting when flying at night.

Can I put a No drone zone over my private land?

No. The no drone zone sign is not for private landowners. Only the FAA has the authority to control the airspace.Drone use in Virginia has become increasingly popular, and while it is important to know the state regulations, it is also essential to note that FAA guidelines still apply. The FAA works hard to ensure that drones do not pose any threat to aviation safety. Nonetheless, they acknowledge drones are also used for recreation and commercial purposes, so they have put in place important measures to ensure the safe use of drones.

author-paul-posea-picture
Hi, I'm Paul.
A big drone enthusiast, reviewing, comparing and writing about drones since 2015. I'm all about helping people enjoy and even monetize their hobby.
paul posea
Paul Posea
Hi, I'm a long-time drone reviewer and I hope my articles and comparisons on this site as well as Dronesgator's youtube channel are of as much help as possible.

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