As personal drones become more popular, federal and state authorities are looking for ways to monitor their use and keep the public safe.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provides guidelines and a legal framework for drone enforcement as well as penalties for unsafe or unauthorized drone use.
Federal drone regulations
Federal law gives the FAA the authority to regulate drone use because it falls under the agency’s authority over U.S. navigable airspace by manned and unmanned aircraft systems. To comply with the law, the FAA must create the rules and standards that the Administrator deems necessary to ensure safety, both for national security and for air commerce.
A drone may fall under the rules for model aircraft rather than for drones if it meets specific criteria:
- It is capable of sustained flight
- The operator flies it only within their visual line of sight
- The purpose of its use is only recreational or hobby-related
Model aircraft must not weigh more than 55 pounds, unless a community-based organization has certified it through a safety program. The operator must not use the aircraft to interfere with manned aircraft and must alert any airport operators and air traffic control tower within five miles of its operation. The operator must also meet all community-based safety guidelines.
The FAA requires registration of all drones that weigh more than 0.55 pounds. The registration number must be on the drone, and the operator must carry the registration certificate with them. If law enforcement asks for the registration certificate, the drone operator must provide it.
An operator who does not register a drone may face civil penalties as high as $32,666. Drone operators may also face criminal penalties, including fines as high as $250,000 and up to three years in prison.