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All Drone Laws in the United States for 2023

Updated in 2023 by Paul Posea
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height flight limit 1

400ft max height

cant fly over crowds of people 1

Don't fly over people

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Don't interfere with aircraft

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Only line of sight

So you bought your first drone and you’re ready to take it for a test flight. Before you do that, you need to be aware of the drone laws in the US for 2023.

By the end of this, you’ll have a clear idea of what you can or cannot do with your drone. Let’s get into it.

In the rest of this article, we’ll dive deeper into the specific laws for each type of drone use.

Can I fly a drone in the USA?

Drones are allowed in the U.S, whether it’s for recreational uses or commercial uses. However, there are various laws governing the use of drones in the US. 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the concerned authority for all drone related activities in the United states.

There are tons of rules and regulations for flying drones in the United States, but they can be simplified into different categories to understand them. That’s exactly what I’ve done. 

Read along to know which category you fall into to prevent your self from hefty fines and lawsuits. You can thank me later. 

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General rules for flying a drone in the United States of America

We’ll get into the specific rules for commercial uses, recreational uses, controlled/uncontrolled airspace, etc… But first, let’s start with some rules that apply to drones in general.

A drone, regardless of what you’re using it for, should not exceed 55lbs of weight at take-off (including payload). This applies even if you’re flying commercially and have a permit.

And most important of all, you cannot interfere with manned aircraft in any way. That means steering clear of airports.

Do I need a license to fly a drone recreationally?

Chances are you’re not looking to fly a drone for work, but just as a hobby. 

You need a certification to fly a drone as a hobby. It’s called The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) and it can be obtained, for free, in less than an hour by passing an online test.

You can learn more about TRUST from the official FAA website here.

If you want to pass the test, my personal recommendation is UAVcoach, they’re an FAA-approved test administrator.

Important!

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that the TRUST test be provided for free. Beware of anyone trying to charge you for this service. 

Recreational drone rules in the US

Now let’s get into the rules of flying for fun in the US. I’m assuming you’ve passed the TRUST test. If you haven’t, please do. (seriously, it’s set up like corporate training… you can’t fail the test)

Register Your Drone

Having passed the test, now it’s time to register your drone. If your drone weighs more than 250g (and most consumer drones do), then you’ll have to register for an FAA registration number. 

You can check the registration procedure here from the FAA themselves

Once done, your registration number allows you to own and fly as many drones as you like for one price (a mere $5), for a period of three years. 

You'll just need to place your newly assigned identification number on the exterior of your drone. (Mandated by the FAA)

Note that not every drone on the market needs to be registered. The DJI Mavic 2 for example has a 249g takeoff weight, so they're exempted. I’ve reviewed it in this article.

The rules of recreational drone flight in the US

In addition to registering your drone and obtaining your registration number. There are other rules for flying your drone as a hobby:

Flying altitude

You must fly at or below 400ft in class G airspace (uncontrolled). If you want to fly in controlled airspace (Class B, C, D, and E) you’ll have to get a permit for that, which I’ll get to later in this article.

Note that even if you have a permit you cannot fly above 400ft.

Fly for recreation only

You cannot receive any form of compensation for your flying. Meaning no side-gigs or weekend hustle with your drone.

Visual line of sight

Keep your drone within the visual line of sight or use a visual observer who is co-located (physically next to) and in direct communication with you.

This is likely for privacy reasons, but I don’t have concrete details from the FAA regarding this rule.

Night flying

In order to fly your drones, you are required to have lights on your drone. This is a recent regulation, before the flying of drones during the night was prohibited without a permit.

Right of way for airplanes

You must give way to and not interfere with manned aircraft.

Additional rules

In addition to these rules, there are other regulations that mandate not flying drones under substance use. You should also not fly over crowds or interfere with emergency situations.

A lot of these rules are honestly simply common sense. Also, it bears to note that in addition to these FAA rules, national parks across the country have banned drones. 

Which is a shame, since these parks give the best drone videos/photos.

Note:

Airspace classes can be a little bit confusing. Here is a map that tells you what class the airspace you’re in is.

Rules for flying drones commercially in the US

Before we get into the rules of flying commercial drones, we should first look at what flying “commercially” means.

Before we get into the rules of flying commercial drones, we should first look at what flying “commercially” means.

The FAA views any drone activity that you’re compensated for as commercial. 

That means not just jobs like shooting weddings, surveying crops, and the various other drone gigs… But also selling your drone footage as stock videos or photos. That too is regarded as “commercial” and you need a permit for it.

The part 107 test

First things first, the part 107 test. This is a test that you’ll have to study for and then take. Passing it gives you a permit that allows you to fly drones commercially.

Before you even look at other rules and regulations, know that you cannot fly drones commercially if you haven’t passed this test (at least not legally).

I have covered this test in depth in a complete guide on the Part 107 FAA license as well as in my previous article about drone careers. 

Commercial Rules—Flying for Work

The rules for flying drones commercially in the US are as follows:

  • You must register your UAV with the FAA on the FAADroneZone website.
  • Your UAV must weigh less than 55 pounds, including payload, at takeoff.
  • You must fly in Class G airspace. (Unless you have a permit to fly in controlled airspace)
  • You must keep your UAV within visual line of sight.
  • You must fly at or below 400 feet.
  • You must fly at or under 100 mph.
  • You must yield the right of way to manned aircraft.
  • You cannot fly from a moving vehicle, unless in a sparsely populated area.

These are the general rules. There are various other case-specific rules in the 107-part certification. I’ve managed to find an official summary of all these rules from the FAA.

Certification Requirements for Flying a Drone in the United States of America

I spoke about the part 107 test and how you can’t start flying commercially without it. But that test is only part of the puzzle.

True, it’s the most important part, but to get the certification from the FAA there are other conditions that you must fulfill.

Understanding of English

You must be able to read, speak, write, and understand English (exceptions may be made if the person is unable to meet one of these requirements for a medical reason, such as a hearing impairment).

Good physical condition

You must be in good mental and physical health to be able to operate a UAS. Note that this is verified after a medical checkup. 

Age

You must be over 16 to receive a commercial flight permit from the FAA.

Security screening

You must undergo Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) security screening.

For more information on how to obtain a remote pilot certificate, check this page on the FAA’s website.

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Controlled vs Uncontrolled Airspace for Drones

The difference between controlled and uncontrolled Airspace in the US and what it means for you as a drone pilot

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, so even though you may not need to be an expert on it, getting an overview of airspace classes is a must.

You can get detailed and thorough knowledge of this from the FAA, but here is a summary below.

Class A

Class A is airspace from 18,000 feet MSL (Mean Sea Level) up to and including FL (Flight Level) 600, including the airspace overlying the waters within 12 nautical miles off the coast of the 48 contiguous States and Alaska.

Class B

Generally, class B is airspace from the surface to 10,000 feet MSL surrounding the nation's busiest airports in terms of IFR operations or passenger enplanements. Below are the primary US airports with a Class B airspace:

  • Andrews Air Force Base, MD
  • Atlanta Hartsfield Airport, GA
  • Boston Logan Airport, MA
  • Chicago O'Hare Intl. Airport, IL
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Intl. Airport, TX
  • Los Angeles Intl. Airport, CA
  • Miami Intl. Airport, FL
  • Newark Intl. Airport, NJ
  • New York Kennedy Airport, NY
  • New York La Guardia Airport, NY
  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, DC
  • San Francisco Intl. Airport, CA

Class C

Airspace that is considered Class C is airspace from the surface to 4,000 feet above the airport elevation surrounding those airports that have an operational control tower.

Class D

Class D is from the surface to 2,500 ft. MSL. Each aircraft must establish two-way radio communications with the ATC facility (Air Traffic Control) providing air traffic services before entering the airspace.

Class E

Every other controlled airspace, besides the classes above, is designated as Class E, this includes a large part of the lower airspace in the US. Class E airspace exists in many forms.

This illustration from the FAA will give you a better idea of how these classes compare to each other.

How to get a controlled airspace permit

As I said earlier, it is possible to get a controlled airspace permit. You just need to apply for an airspace authorization called the LAANC.

LAANC, or the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability, was created as a means for the FAA to work more directly with the private drone sector to authorize and monitor the flights of remote pilots.

Before the LAANC, drone pilots had to apply for a permit through the FAADroneZone website, which took weeks… if not months.

Now with the LAANC, it takes minutes, sometimes instantly, to use software that determines whether you can fly in controlled airspace or not. 

This video I found on youtube explains how the LAANC works perfectly:

What is uncontrolled airspace?

We’ve gone over controlled airspace and seen the different airspace classes (A, B, C, D, and E).

Uncontrolled airspace is any airspace that does not fall under those classes, it’s categorized as Class G (they skipped the F).

Although it may be “uncontrolled”, there are still instances where you can’t fly your drone in Class G airspaces. There are areas within class G that are regarded as “Special Use Airspace”. We’ll go over them below:

Prohibited areas 

Airspace within which all aircraft flight is pro­hibited. Such areas are usually established for national-security reasons. (congress and government buildings, for example)

Restricted areas

Restricted areas often identify invisible hazards to aircraft such as artillery firing, aerial gunnery, or guided missiles. 

Flying a drone in a restricted area without authorization from the controlling agency may be extremely hazardous. (Note that you can still fly drones here, it’s not strictly prohibited)

Military operation areas (MOAs)

Airspace established to separate certain military training activities from civilian air traffic.

Alert areas

These are depicted on aeronautical charts with an A followed by a number (e.g., A-211) to inform pilots of areas that may contain a high volume of pilot training or an unusual type of aerial activity. 

Drone pilots should exercise caution in alert areas.

 Can the FAA track your drone?

We’ve covered a lot in this article so far. Lots of rules, lots of regulations… You might be thinking that they’re too restrictive. I don’t blame you.

You might also be thinking if you can just ignore them. Well, I have bad news for you…

There are multiple ways the FAA can track your drone. Increasingly, there are spots where they're able to hack your drone “real-time” as it flies past, forcing it to land or self-destruct (crash). Usually, the serial number in the wreckage is enough to tie it back to you.

But honestly, there is no reason why you’d want to break the rules. Most of them are just common sense and don’t hinder your ability to enjoy your drone in any way.

Special travel considerations for foreigners flying drones in the US

I think this topic warrants a section of its own which is why I left it last. 

If you’re traveling to the US and are looking to see the drone laws that apply to you, this list of regulations from https://uavcoach.com/ will be extremely helpful:

  • Whether you plan to fly for fun or work, you must register your drone with the FAA using the FAADroneZone portal.
  • If you plan to fly your drone for recreation in the U.S., you must take The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) required by the FAA. 
  • If you plan to fly for work, you must obtain a certificate from the FAA and follow the rules for commercial flying listed below. (part 107 test)
  • When traveling domestically in the U.S. with your drone, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows you to travel with your drone but you must bring it in carry-on luggage only. You may not pack your drone in checked luggage. For information on traveling within the U.S. with a drone, see this page on the TSA website.

If you’d like to contact the FAA directly before you travel with any questions you might have, here is their contact information: UAShelp@faa.gov / +1 866 835-5322

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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