united-states-of-america-drone-laws-updated
height flight limit

400ft max height

can't fly over crowds of people

Don't fly over people

plane icon white

Don't interfere with aircraft

Only line of sight

All Drone Laws in US for 2020 (Complete Guide)

This is a guide for the United States drone laws for 2020 (updated every year) where you'll get a clue about what you can or shouldn't do while flying a quadcopter anywhere in this country.

I'll get very in depth with this article, but long story short, you can check the Recreational drone uses if you're a casual drone pilot.

Table of Contents

Can I fly a drone in the United States?

Absolutely. But if you want to have smooth operations, you have to familiarize yourself with the guidelines from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the primary agency responsible for regulating and implementing laws and licenses for drones. 

Who to contact? 

If you wish to get firsthand info from FAA itslef, you may reach them through UAShelp@faa.gov 

What are the Drone Laws in US?

drone laws by country updated map

The scope of drone laws in US depends on your purpose of using it (recreational or commercial) and where you are flying it (controlled or uncontrolled space).

Recreational drone rules

For recreational purposes, the law requires all operators to pass a knowledge and safety test that is based on consolidated information gathered from manufacturers and stakeholders. The scope of this exam covers questions on: 

  • aeronautical safety; and 
  • FAA regulations and requirements on the operation of unmanned aircrafy system (UAS) in the national airspace system. 

 

You should follow the guidelines on recreational flying, not doing so could cause you criminal and civil penalties. 

  • height icon
    Height limit of 400ft
    Operators can only fly drones in uncontrolled airspace (Class G) up to 400 ft
  • checkmark
    Flying above 400ft requires permit
    Flying in controlled airspace (Class B, C, D, E) requires permit. This could be done in three ways I'll cover bellow.
  • line of sight icon
    Line of sight
    Keep your done within the visual line-of-sight of an observer who is next to you or in direct communication with you
  • moon day icon night flying
    No night flying
    Do not fly at night unless your drone has lighting
  • plane icon
    No flying near airports
    Do not interfere with a manned aircraft
  • crowd icon
    Don't fly over crowds
    Do not fly over any person or moving vehicle
  • ambulance icon
    Don't interfere with emergency situations
    Do not interfere with emergency response activities (disaster relief, accident response, law enforcement, firefighting)
  • checkmark
    Fly sober
    Do not operate under the influence of drugs or alcohol

How to get a controlled airspace permit

This can be done in 3 ways:

    1. Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) system
    2. Recognition of ownership from FAA’s portal, DroneZone
    3. Written agreement from the FAA

For more in-depth info about recreational flying of drones, you may read FAA’s Reauthorization Bill and the rules for Recreational Flyers and Modeler Community-Based Organizations

Commercial drone rules

For commercial purposes, it will be a different set of rules you’ll gonna have to follow. 

But the first thing you should take note is the weight of your drone. 

  • Below 250 grams 
    • no certification is needed 
    • e.g. DJI Spark 2 
  •  Under 55 lbs and Over 250 grams 
    • Part 107 certification (to be discussed later) 
  • Over 55 lbs
    • Authorization permit from Special Authority for Certain Unmanned Systems from the Secretary of Transportation 

Qualifications

For owners of drones that are less than 55 lbs, the next thing you should secure is the Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA. In order to obtain that, you should pass these following qualifications: 

 

  1. Be able to read, speak, write, and understand English (with exceptions if the person has physical inabilities) 
  2. Be physically and mentally fit to operate UAS 
  3. Be at least 16 years old 
  4. Pass the Aeronautical Knowledge Test–or the Part 107 test–at an FAA-accredited knowledge testing center 
  5. Undergo Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) security screening 

 

Guidelines

Once you secure the needed permits, then you can fly commercially. However, similar to recreational purposes, there are certain guidelines too. 

  • Register on FAA’s portal, DroneZone 
  • Fly only in Class G airspace 
  • Keep your UAS within visual line-of-sight 
  • Fly at or below 400 ft 
  • Fly only during daylight or twilight 
  • Fly at or under 100 mph 
  • Yield right of way to manned aircraft 
  • Do not fly directly over people 
  • Do not fly over a moving vehicle 

 

Meanwhile, several states in the US have their own set of regulations too. It would help if you browse on them too.

Controlled and Uncontrolled Airspace explained

controlled and uncontrolled airspace levels graphic in the United States

But before you decide which purpose are you using it for, you should know first if you are flying it in a controlled or uncontrolled airspace. Here are the guidelines you should from from FAA’s Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge.

What is Controlled Airspace?

Controlled airspace is the area surrounding airports where manned aircraft can fly. It is governed by restrictions to protect national security, that is why it is important to brush up on these classifications so you know what are the scopes you have to follow and when is it legal to fly. 

  • A
    Class A
    18,000 ft. MSL up to 600 FL, including the airspace, including the airspace overlying the waters within 12 NM of the coast of 48 contiguous states and Alaska.
  • B
    Class B
    From the surface to 10,000 ft. MSL surrounding US airports. ATC clearance is required for all aircraft to operate here.
  • C
    Class C
    From the surface to 4,000 ft. MSL above the airport elevation. The airspace under this class consists of an area with 5 NM radius that extends from 1,200 ft to 4,000 ft above airport elevation
  • D
    Class D
    From the surface to 2,500 ft. MSL. Each aircraft must establish two-way radio communications with the ATC facility providing air traffic services prior to entering airspace
  • E
    Class E
    Below 14,500 ft. MSL to 18,000 ft. MSL. Airspace base ranges from 700 ft. AGL to 1,200 AGL. Majority of US airspace is under this class.

What is uncontrolled airspace?

Uncontrolled airspace, on the other hand, is portion of the airspace that has not been designated as Class A, B, C, D, nor E. Although there are no air traffic controls (ATC) set to regulate air traffic, operators should be mindful of the visual flight rules (VFS) that apply to this class. 

 

Class G is used to define the uncontrolled airspace. Its scope starts from the surface to the base of the Class E airspace. 

 

But do not be tricked by the term “uncontrolled airspace” because it is not as simple as that. Certain areas in the Class G airspace still have limitations where activities must be regulated depending on their designation, or what is called as the special use airspace or special area of operation (SAO)

According to FAA’s Pilot Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, these are the following SAOs that must be observed under Class G airspace:

  • 1
    Prohibited Areas:
    Portions where flight of aircraft is prohibited due to national security, such as near the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where the White House and Congressional buildings are located
  • 2
    Restricted Areas:
    Flying on these areas are not entirely prohibited, but due to the hazard it might cause to non-participating aircraft, activities within these areas must be confined or limited. These restricted areas often include the existence of “unusual, often invisible, hazards to aircraft” such as artillery firing, aerial gunnery, and guided missiles.
  • 3
    Warning Areas:
    Similar to restricted areas, warning areas are set due to the hazards that may happen to non-participating aircraft, but this time in areas extending from 3 NM outward from the coast of US, to protect any non-participating pilots too. This area may be located over domestic or internationals. or both. However, the US government doesn’t have sole jurisdiction over this airspace.
  • 4
    Military Operation Areas (MOAs)
    These are vertical and lateral limits established to separate military training activities from instrument flight rulels (IFR) traffic.
  • 5
    Alert Areas
    High caution shoul be employed over these areas due to high volume of pilot training or unusual type of aeriel activities.
  • 6
    Controlled Firing Areas (CFAs)
    You should watch out for some activities that are often conducted in these areas conducted by spotter aircraft or radars that may also be hazardous to non-participating aircraft from the outside.

Restricted Areas and Geofencing (drone flying map)

The best way to figure out what areas you can fly in, is by consulting DJI offilicial map.
They do a great job mapping the places that one should avoid while flying in every country:

  • airports
  • military bases
  • prisons
  • power plants
  • any high risk areas
romania flying map dji

What are my top drones to fly safely in US?

My following two recommendations are 2 great compact drones that are quite silent and also small enough to travel with and not stand out as annoying.

1.Dji Mavic Mini - The best international travel drone (under 250g)

camera-icon-small

2.7k

small battery-life-icon

30min

drone distance icon

4km

No follow me

DJI has surprised us with this incredible camera drone under 250g, which is half of the weight required for registering in Austria in the first place.

 

I have covered it much more in depth in my article review and even compared it with the DJI Spark and Mavic Air.

2.Dji Mavic Air 2 - My favorite drone overall

camera-icon-small

4k 60fps

small battery-life-icon

34min battery

drone distance icon

9km

Follow + obstacle avoidance

mavic air 2 package fly more combo
If you want more control over things like shutter speed, iso and such, the best professional drone that still falls under the 500g category is the DJI Mavic Air.
 
It's made mostly for people who want to play around with settings and enter into the pro category.
 

 

DJI lowered it's price since it was first released.

Frequently asked questions

faq-what-should-you-look-for-in-a-drone

At this price, every dollar counts in getting yourself a better or worse drone and the differences can be significant.

 I'm going to cover the main features of basic camera drones, not FPV or otherwise niche quadcopters. 

Is drone insurance mandatory?

No, drone insurance is not mandatory for drones in the US, but you can always get something for safety.

What's the max height you can fly a drone at?

For recreational purposes, the max height you can fly at is 400ft

What's the max distance you can fly?

You can fly pretty much as much as you want if you can still see the drone.

Can you fly drones at night?

You can only fly drones between 30 mins before sunrise and 30 mins after sunset

Can you fly in national parks and cities?

You cannot fly drones in national parks or cities like Washington, D.C. and New York City

Can I fly a foreign drone in the US?

Yes. But like any other drones, you must secure a foreign aircraft permit from the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the FAA. 

 

If your drone is registered in your home country, you must submit an application for permit at least 15 days prior to operating it. 

  • If in case, your country does not require drone registration, you may reach the DOT Foreign Air Carrier Licensing Division for application 
  • For Canadians and Mexicans, you are entitled to a foreign aircraft permit for Specialty Air Services (SAS) for certain agricultural or industrial operations for both manned and UAS drone operations, as granted by the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Under these regulations, Canadians and Mexicans don’t need to file applications for economic authority on their drone operations. 
  • For other nationalities, aside from Canadians and Mexicans, all US regulations for securing authorizations on drone operations still apply