Last Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued new rules for hobbyist drone pilots in an effort to keep the national airspace safe and available for both manned and unmanned aircraft. Hobbyist or recreational drone pilots are no longer exempt under Section 336 and are now required to follow these new FAA rules and regulations. Unfortunately, for the time being, this means that hobbyist or recreational drone pilots are no longer able to fly in controlled airspace at all, with the exception of these designated areas.

Later this summer, when the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) system will be made available to hobbyist drone pilots, they will be required to obtain approval for their flights in controlled airspace through the LAANC system. If this sounds to you like the FAA is putting the horse behind the wagon, then I would agree. However, this is the situation that we are dealing with for now. Keep in mind it will only be temporary until the FAA makes LAANC available to all pilots.

However, this is not all. The FAA will also require all hobbyist drone pilots to take an electronic aeronautical knowledge and safety test. And, you will be required to show proof of you successfully passing the exam to any FAA official or police officer upon request.

Keep reading for all the details of these new rules and what it means to you. If you prefer to watch a 12-minute video instead of reading, I suggest you watch the one below from 51drones.

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New rules for hobbyist drone pilots issues by the FAA

As of May 17th, the FAA has put in place the following new rules for all hobbyist or recreational drone pilots in an effort to keep the national airspace safe for both manned an unmanned aircraft.

The new rules are the result of the regulations outlined in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, signed into law by President Trump. The act included the appeal of Section 336, also known as the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, which exempted hobbyist drone pilots from the FAA rules.

Even though the new FAA rules are not legally binding, the agency does have the authority to take enforcement action to guarantee the safety of the national airspace.

Last Thursday, the FAA said in a statement:

“While recreational flyers may continue to fly below 400 feet in uncontrolled airspace without specific certification or operating authority from the FAA, they are now required to obtain prior authorization from the FAA before flying in controlled airspace around airports. Furthermore, they must comply with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions when flying in controlled and uncontrolled airspace.”

Previously, hobbyist drone pilots only had to notify the Air Traffic Control Center (ATC) before flying their drone within five miles of an airport. Now, they will have to request authorization thru the not yet available LAANC system. The FAA expects LAANC to become available sometime this summer. For now, this means that recreational drone pilots can only fly in uncontrolled airspace or at any of the fixed sites, shown on this map here.

Jay Merkle, the FAA’s Executive Director for UAS Integration, explained the situation as follows:

“We view this as a very positive step forward for the safe integration of UAS. Including everyone under the same rules really does move everything forward.”

We would agree with that statement, with the caveat that the FAA should make LAANC available to hobbyist drone pilots as soon as possible as the current situation will likely lead to many drone pilots knowingly or unknowingly breaking the new rules.

As far as the new electronic aeronautical knowledge and safety test that will be required for all hobbyist drone pilots, that should become available in an online form before November 18, 2019.

The new FAA rules have been published on the website of the Federal Register here.

Video explains the new rules

If you prefer to watch a short video instead of reading through all the text, I would suggest you watch this excellent video from 51drone in which Russ explains the new rules for hobbyist drone pilots.

On the FAA website, you will find a summary of the new rules

Recreational Flyers & Modeler Community-Based Organizations

You are considered a recreational user if you fly your drone for fun. It is important to know when and where you can fly and how to register your drone.

New Changes to Recreational Drone Flying in the United States

There’s a new law (PDF) that describes how, when, and where you can fly drones for recreational purposes. Following these rules will keep you and your drone safe and will help keep the airspace available to everyone.

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Register your drone, mark it on the outside with the registration number (PDF), and carry proof of registration with you.
  2. Fly only for recreational purposes.
  3. Follow the safety guidelines of a community based organization.
  4. Fly your drone at or below 400 feet when in uncontrolled or “Class G” airspace. This is airspace where the FAA is not controlling manned air traffic. To determine what type of airspace you are in, refer to the mobile application that operates your drone (if so equipped) and/or use other drone-related mobile applications. Knowing your location and what airspace you’re in will also help you avoid interfering with other aircraft.
  5. Do NOT fly in controlled airspace (around and above many airports) unless:You are flying at a recreational flyer fixed site that has an agreement with the FAA. The FAA has posted a list of approved sites (MS Excel) and has depicted them as blue dots on a map. Each fixed site is limited to the altitude shown on this map, which varies by location.NOTE: Flight in controlled airspace is temporarily limited to these fixed fields. 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. This system is currently only available for certified Part 107 drone pilots.NOTE: If your organization is interested in establishing a letter of agreement for a fixed flying site, please contact us at ajt-9-uas-integration@faa.gov.
  6. Keep your drone within your line of sight, or within the visual line-of-sight of a visual observer who is co-located and in direct communication with you.
  7. Do NOT fly in airspace where flight is prohibited. Airspace restrictions can be found on our interactive map, and temporary flight restrictions can be found here. Drone operators are responsible for ensuring they comply with all airspace restrictions.
  8. Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports.
  9. Never fly over groups of people, public events, or stadiums full of people.
  10. Never fly near emergencies such as any type of accident response, law enforcement activities, firefighting, or hurricane recovery efforts.
  11. Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Recreational flyers should know that if they intentionally violate any of these safety requirements, and/or operate in a careless and reckless manner, they 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.

Changes Coming in the Future

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 requires:

  1. Drone operators to pass an online aeronautical knowledge and safety test and carry proof of test passage.
  2. The FAA to issue guidance for how it will recognize community based organizations.

The FAA plans to have all of these features and requirements fully implemented by the summer of 2019.

Check our website for the latest updates or follow us on social media for the latest news.

More detailed information about the FAA’s plan to fully implement the requirements of Section 349 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 may be found on the Federal Register.

What do you think about these new FAA rules for hobbyist drone pilots? Let us know in the comments below.

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