18Jan 2018

FAA Rules and Regulations for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)

FAA rules and regulations

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is a national authority that has the power to regulate all aspects of civil aviation. With the popularity of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) rising, the FAA has elected to regulate the UAS community. This regulation falls under the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs). These FARs are part of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The specific governing regulation for UAS operations is 14 CFR Part 107. Public Law 112-95 Section 336 provides a special rule for “drones” that are within the model aircraft category. The two categories are further described:

Fly under the special rule for Model Aircraft (Section 336)

  • This is used for hobby or recreation ONLY.
  • When flying under Section 336, you must register your model aircraft with the FAA. (See link).
  • Follow community-based safety guidelines and fly within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization, such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA).
  • Fly a model aircraft under 55lbs. unless certified by the AMA.
  • Fly within visual line-of-sight
  • Never fly near other aircraft.
  • Notify the airport and air traffic control tower prior to flying within 5 miles of an airport.
  • Never fly near emergency response efforts.

Fly under the FAA’s Small UAS Rule (Part 107)

  • Fly for recreational OR commercial use.
  • Register your drone with the FAA.
  • Get a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA
  • Fly a drone under 55lbs.
  • The following are subject to Part 107 waivers from the FAA:
    • Fly within visual-line-of-sight.
    • Do not fly near other aircraft or over people.
    • Do not fly in controlled airspace near airports without FAA permission.
    • Fly only during daylight or civil twilight, at or below 400 feet. 

The following waivers can be obtained from the FAA:

How to know which option the operator falls under?

This table from the FAA website gives examples of which category the user may fall under:

Hobby or Recreation (Section 336)

Commercial Use (Part 107)

  • Flying a model aircraft at the local model aircraft club

  • Taking photographs with a model aircraft for personal use

  • Using a model aircraft to move a box from point to point without any kind of compensation

  • Viewing a field to determine whether crops need water when they are grown for personal enjoyment
  • Receiving money for demonstrating aerobatics with a model aircraft

  • A realtor using a model aircraft to photograph a property that he is trying to sell and using the photos in the property’s real estate listing.

  • A person photographing a property or event and selling the photos to someone else.

  • Delivering packages to people for a fee

  • Determining whether crops need to be watered that are grown as part of commercial farming operations.

Special Rule for Model Aircraft (FAA Section 336)

The FAA has specific guidelines the Model Aircraft user must follow to maintain operation under Section 336. The following is extracted from FAA Advisory Circular AC 91-57A :

Model Aircraft Operations


  1. 49 USC § 40102 defines an aircraft as “any contrivance invented, used, or designed to navigate, or fly in, the air.” 14 CFR § 1.1 defines an aircraft as “a device that is used or intended to be used for flight in the air.”
  2. Public Law 112-95 defines unmanned aircraft as an aircraft that is operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft.
  3. Section 336 of P.L. 112-95 defines a model aircraft as an unmanned aircraft that is capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere, flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft, and flown only for hobby or recreational purposes. 

B. Model Aircraft Hazards in the NAS. While aero-modelers generally are concerned about safety and exercise good judgment when flying model aircraft for the hobby and recreational purposes for which they are intended, they may share the airspace in which manned aircraft are operating. Unmanned aircraft, including model aircraft, may pose a hazard to manned aircraft in flight and to persons and property on the surface if not operated safely. Model aircraft operations that endanger the safety of the National Airspace System, particularly careless or reckless operations or those that interfere with or fail to give way to any manned aircraft may be subject to FAA enforcement action.

C. Determination of “Model Aircraft” Status. Whether a given unmanned aircraft operation may be considered a “model aircraft operation” is determined with reference to section 336 of Public Law 112-95:

  1. The aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use. 
  2. The aircraft operates in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization (CBO);
  3. The aircraft is limited to not more than 55 pounds, unless otherwise certified through a design, construction, inspection, flight test, and operational safety program administered by a CBO;
  4. The aircraft operates in a manner that does not interfere with, and gives way to, any manned aircraft; and
  5. When flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the model aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport) with prior notice of the operation. Model aircraft operators flying from a permanent location within 5 miles of an airport should establish a mutually agreed upon operating procedure with the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport).

D. Public Law 112-95 recognizes the authority of the Administrator to pursue enforcement action against persons operating model aircraft who endanger the safety of the National Airspace System. Accordingly, model aircraft operators must comply with any Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR). TFRs are issued over specific locations due to disasters, or for reasons of national security; or when determined necessary for the management of air traffic in the vicinity of aerial demonstrations or major sporting events. Do not operate model aircraft in designated areas until the TFR is no longer in force. Model aircraft must not operate in Prohibited Areas, Special Flight Rule Areas or, the Washington National Capital Region Flight Restricted Zone, without specific authorization. Such areas are depicted on charts available at http://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/flight_info/aeronav/. Additionally, model aircraft operators should be aware of other Notices to Airmen (NOTAMS) which address operations near locations such as military or other federal facilities, certain stadiums, power plants, electric substations, dams, oil refineries, national parks, emergency, services and other industrial complexes. In addition to the previously mentioned link, information regarding published NOTAMS can be found at: https://www.faa.gov/air_traffic /publications/notices/. The requirement to not fly within TFRs, or other circumstances where prohibited, would apply to operation of model aircraft that would otherwise comply with section 336 of Public Law 112-95.

E. Model aircraft operators should follow best practices including limiting operations to 400 feet above ground level (AGL).

F. All other operators and for additional information on Unmanned Aircraft Systems please visit: http://www.faa.gov/uas/ .

For more information on the FAA’s Special Rule for Model Aircraft (FAA Section 336) visit the FAA website.

Small UAS Rule (Part 107)

The rules for non-hobbyist small UAS operations cover a broad spectrum of commercial uses for drones weighing less than 55 pounds. Under this UAS Rule there are operating requirements the UAS operator must follow.

Operating Requirements

  • The small UAS operator manipulating the controls of a drone should always avoid manned aircraft and never operate in a careless or reckless manner. You must keep your drone within sight. Alternatively, if you use First Person View or similar technology, you must have a visual observer always keep your aircraft within unaided sight (for example, no binoculars). However, even if you use a visual observer, you must still keep your unmanned aircraft close enough to be able to see it if something unexpected happens.  Neither you nor a visual observer can be responsible for more than one unmanned aircraft operation at a time.
  • You can fly during daylight or in twilight (30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time) with appropriate anti-collision lighting. Minimum weather visibility is three miles from your control station. The maximum allowable altitude is 400 feet above the ground, and higher if your drone remains within 400 feet of a structure. The maximum speed is 100 mph (87 knots).
  • You can’t fly a small UAS over anyone who is not directly participating in the operation, not under a covered structure, or not inside a covered stationary vehicle. No operations from a moving vehicle are allowed unless you are flying over a sparsely populated area.
  • Operations in Class G airspace are allowed without air traffic control permission. Operations in Class B, C, D and E airspace need Air Traffic Control approval. The figure below displays the FAA’s airspace class operations. For more information regarding types of controlled airspace please visit the FAA safety website.
  • You can carry an external load if it is securely attached and does not adversely affect the flight characteristics or controllability of the aircraft. You also may transport property for compensation or hire within state boundaries provided the drone – including its attached systems, payload and cargo – weighs less than 55 pounds total and you obey the other flight rules. (Some exceptions apply to Hawaii and the District of Columbia. These are spelled out in Part 107.)
  • You can request a waiver of most operational restrictions if you can show that your proposed operation can be conducted safely under a waiver. The FAA will make an online portal available to apply for such waivers.

Types of Controlled Airspace

Types of Controlled Airspace

Pilot Certification

To operate the controls of a small UAS under Part 107, you need a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating, or be under the direct supervision of a person who holds such a certificate

You must be at least 16 years old to qualify for a remote pilot certificate, and you can obtain it in one of two ways:

  • You may pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center.
  • If you already have a Part 61 pilot certificate, other than a student pilot certificate, you must have completed a flight review in the previous 24 months and you must take a small UAS online training course provided by the FAA.

If you have a non-student pilot Part 61 certificate, you will immediately receive a temporary remote pilot certificate when you apply for a permanent certificate. Other applicants will obtain a temporary remote pilot certificate upon successful completion of a security background check. We anticipate we will be able to issue temporary certificates within 10 business days after receiving a completed application.

UAS Certification

You are responsible for ensuring a drone is safe before flying, but the FAA does not require small UAS to comply with current agency airworthiness standards or obtain aircraft certification.Instead, the remote pilot will simply have to perform a preflight visual and operational check of the small UAS to ensure that safety-pertinent systems are functioning properly.  This includes checking the communications link between the control station and the UAS. The UAS must also be registered.

Respecting Privacy

Although the new rule does not specifically deal with privacy issues in the use of drones, and the FAA does not regulate how UAS gather data on people or property, the FAA is acting to address privacy considerations in this area. The FAA strongly encourages all UAS pilots to check local and state laws before gathering information through remote sensing technology or photography.

As part of a privacy education campaign, the agency will provide all drone users with recommended privacy guidelines as part of the UAS registration process and through the FAA’s B4UFly mobile app. The FAA also will educate all commercial drone pilots on privacy during their pilot certification process; and will issue new guidance to local and state governments on drone privacy issues. The FAA’s effort builds on the privacy “best practices” (PDF) the National Telecommunications and Information Administration published last month as the result of a year-long outreach initiative with privacy advocates and industry.  

Other Requirements

If you are acting as pilot in command, you must comply with several other provisions of the rule:

  • You must make your drone available to the FAA for inspection or testing on request, and you must provide any associated records required to be kept under the rule.
  • You must report to the FAA within 10 days any operation that results in serious injury, loss of consciousness, or property damage (to property other than the UAS) of at least $500.

For more information on the FAA’s Small UAS Rule visit the FAA website.