FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 Changes Recreational Drone Flying Requirements

The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 includes changes to recreational drone flying in the US. Radio amateurs have used drones to inspect antenna systems and terrain and to carry support lines aloft, as well as for other purposes. The FAA considers those who fly their drones for fun as recreational users. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 describes how, when, and where owners may fly drones for recreational purposes. These broad guidelines should apply to most Amateur Radio users of drones.

  • Register as a “modeler.” A registrant must be at least 13 years old and a US citizen or legal permanent resident.

  • Label your model aircraft with your registration number.

  • Fly only for recreational purposes.

  • Follow the safety guidelines of a community-based organization (see below).

  • Fly your drone at or below 400 feet when in uncontrolled or Class G airspace, and do not fly it in airspace where flight is prohibited.

  • Keep your drone within your line of sight or within the line-of-sight of a visual observer who is co-located and in direct communication with the operator.

  • 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 any type of accident response, law enforcement activities, firefighting, or hurricane recovery efforts.

  • Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Recreational flyers who intentionally violate any of these safety requirements and/or operate in a careless and reckless manner could be liable for criminal and/or civil penalties. Read the Authorization for limited recreational operations as described in Section 44809 (PDF). All limited recreational operations should be conducted in accordance with this authorization.

For more information, read Advisory Circular 91-57B.

The FAA is upgrading the online system, known as LAANC (the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability), so that recreational operations can get automated airspace authorizations to fly in controlled airspace.

The new law also will require that drone operators pass an online aeronautical knowledge and safety test and carry proof of test passage. The FAA is developing the test in consultation with stakeholders. Recreational flyers would have to pass the test, which could be administered electronically. The FAA will provide additional guidance and will notify when the test is available. The FAA also will issue guidance for how it will recognize community-based organizations.

More detailed information about the FAA’s plan to fully implement the requirements of Section 349 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 is available in the Federal Register.

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