Overview of Hobby Flying Rules
When flying as a hobbyist in the US, you must follow the rules (US law) from the Special Rule for Model Aircraft. Those rules currently include the following:
- Fly only for hobby or recreation
- Follow the safety guidelines of a nationwide community-based organization
- Fly a drone under 55 lbs (if not certified by a community-based organization)
- Never fly near other manned aircraft
- Notify airports within 5 miles before flying
- Fly within visual line of sight (VLOS) of the person operating the drone
- Register your drone with the FAA
Note: On October 5, 2018, the President signed the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. The Act establishes new conditions for recreational use of drones and immediately repeals the Special Rule for Model Aircraft.
Per Section 380 in the The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018:
"(a) Regulations.—Notwithstanding the repeals under sections 341, 348, 347, and 383 of this Act, all orders, determinations, rules, regulations, permits, grants, and contracts, which have been issued under any law described under subsection (b) of this section before the effective date of this Act shall continue in effect until modified or revoked by the Secretary of Transportation, acting through the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, as applicable, by a court of competent jurisdiction, or by operation of law other than this Act."
The FAA posted this announcement on their website to confirm that these new rules have not yet been implemented. Recreational pilots should continue to follow the current policies and guidelines (as described above) until the FAA implements this new legislation.
Note: You can only fly as a hobbyist if you’re doing something that does not involve making money and/or furthering a business. If you’d like to fly commercially, you’ll need a Remote Pilot Certificate and you’ll need to follow the Part 107 rules. See more details here.
Note: A drone that does not meet every element of the definition, or is not operated in accordance with every element contained in Section 336(a) and 14 C.F.R. § 101.41, is not a Model Aircraft, and must be operated in accordance with Part 107 or another operational provisions for a particular aircraft.
Drone Registration Reinstated
How to Register Your Drone
If you’ll only be flying as a hobbyist, you should register under “Section 336” on the FAA’s website here. The registration fee is $5 and the registration needs to be renewed every 3 years. All of your drones (weighing 0.55 lbs or more) should be marked with your FAA registration number.
After you complete the registration process, you should receive a copy of your registration information via email. If you ever lose that information, you can find it by logging into your FAA account on this page at the top, right.
Note: If you accidentally register under “Part 107”, you’ll only be able to use your registration number for the drone you entered during the registration process. You can also fly as a hobbyist with that type of registration.
Labeling Your Drone with Your FAA Registration Number
Before flying anywhere outdoors in the US, you must mark your drone(s) with your FAA registration number. As long as you registered under “Section 336”, you can mark all of your drones with the same FAA registration number.
You can mark your FAA registration number on your drone(s) with a label, marker, or engrave it. If you think you’ll ever sell your drone, then marking it with a label that can be removed later would be the best way to go.
Per the External Marking Requirement rule, your FAA registration number must be marked on an outside surface of your drone. This rule goes into effect on February 25, 2019.
Keeping Your Drone in Visual Line of Sight
Per Section 107.31, the person operating the drone is required to maintain visual line of sight (VLOS) with the drone throughout the entire flight. That means you should be able to see your drone with vision that is unaided by any device other than glasses or contacts. See more details here.
You’ll be able to spot your drone easier during the day and night by attaching some type of bright lights to the body or landing gear of the drone. STROBON Cree strobe lights are one of the most commonly used lights and are currently the smallest, brightest strobe light available.
Note: There are a few ways to legally fly with a spotter. See more details here.
Choosing a Community-Based Organization
The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 states a community-based organization is an organization that:
is described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986;
is exempt from tax under section 501(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986;
the mission of which is demonstrably the furtherance of model aviation;
provides a comprehensive set of safety guidelines for all aspects of model aviation addressing the assembly and operation of model aircraft and that emphasize safe aeromodeling operations within the national airspace system and the protection and safety of individuals and property on the ground, and may provide a comprehensive set of safety rules and programming for the operation of unmanned aircraft that have the advanced flight capabilities enabling active, sustained, and controlled navigation of the aircraft beyond visual line of sight of the operator;
provides programming and support for any local charter organizations, affiliates, or clubs; and
provides assistance and support in the development and operation of locally designated model aircraft flying sites.
While US law does not name a list of accepted nationwide community-based organizations (nor does the FAA since they have not been tasked to do so), here are some organizations that claim to be nationwide community-based organizations:
Note: You’re not required to be a paying member in order to follow the safety guidelines of the nationwide community-based organization of your choice.
Notifying Nearby Airports Before Flying
You’re required to notify airports within 5 miles before flying. If the airport says the operation may be unsafe or that they disapprove it, then you should consider flying in another location where you do not need the airport’s approval or where the airport operator states would be acceptable. Per FAA Notice N 8900.268, the FAA “would consider flying model aircraft over the objections of FAA air traffic or airport operators to be endangering the safety of the NAS.”
See the Best Practices for Flying your Drone within Five Miles of an Airport for more tips on contacting your local airports.
Power of the FAA
The FAA’s safety mandate under 49 U.S.C. § 40103 requires it to regulate aircraft operations conducted in the National Airspace System (NAS), which include UAS operations, to protect persons and property on the round, and to prevent collisions between aircraft or between aircraft and other objects. FAA regulations prohibit any person from operating an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another. See more details here.
Power of Local Cities and Municipalities
In this press release, the FAA explains the power cities and municipalities have over drone flights. They are only able to prohibit taking off and landing on land they own. They are not permitted to have their own rules or regulations governing the operation of aircraft.
Following the rules above will both ensure you’re obeying US law and help you operate your drone safely. Keep in mind that the FAA has the authority to pursue enforcement action against people operating drones in a manner that they determine endangers the safety of the national airspace system (NAS). You could be liable if you harm other people and/or property even if you follow all of the rules above.
In the FAA’s Drone Safety Tips, they recommend that you:
- Be aware of FAA airspace restrictions
- Respect privacy
- 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 fires or hurricane recovery efforts
- Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol