Flying For Fun; But Are You Sure?
By Rebekah Waters, FAA Safety Briefing Magazine
I often see drones for resale online along with other abandoned hobby items like model trains or kayaks. Many people look at a small drone and see a toy, no different than a remote-control car. This misconception could lead to unsafe flying and unintentional violations of FAA regulations. While flying a drone might seem like a hobby, everyone who flies one is a pilot and the drone is your aircraft.
In most cases, drones weighing under 55 pounds are governed by part 107 of the FAA regulations. There is an exception (49 USC 44809) to this rule for recreational flyers operating their drone under very limited and defined circumstances. All drone pilots must pass an aeronautical knowledge exam or a recreational safety test before they take flight. Which one should you take? Let’s have a look!
Pilots who will fly a drone for purely recreational purposes are considered recreational flyers when they follow the requirements of 44809. This is a limited statutory exception, or “carve out,” that provides a basic set of requirements for recreational flyers. The law requires that all rec flyers take The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) and provide proof of passage if asked by law enforcement or FAA personnel. The TRUST is a free, online knowledge test designed to ensure that all rec flyers know the rules before flying their drones. The list of FAA-approved TRUST administrators is available at bit.ly/UAS-TRUST.
If you plan on operating your drone for any other reason than for fun, you must fly under part 107. Part 107 requires drone pilots to pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test: “Unmanned Aircraft General — Small (UAG).” This test is administered at FAA-approved Knowledge Testing Centers or can be taken online for traditional aircraft pilots who have current pilot certificates. More information about part 107 can be found here.
Note: Compensation is not the only factor when deciding if part 107 applies to the flight. Purpose matters! Remember, if the flight is for any purpose other than recreation, it’s governed by part 107.
When figuring out which of these tests you should take, you must consider carefully how you plan on operating your drone. It might be a little trickier than you think to determine if you are operating as a recreational flyer under the “carve out,” or as a commercial flyer, under part 107. A few scenarios might help clarify.
It’s easy to understand that someone who is hired to fly a drone is a commercial operator. For instance, if a major railroad corporation hires a drone pilot to conduct infrastructure inspections of the railway, this person is clearly a commercial drone operator. What about an insurance agent who occasionally uses his drone to survey roof damage from storms? It may surprise you, but the insurance agent is also a commercial operator, and must operate under part 107. But what about operations conducted off the clock or flown for free? Aren’t these operations recreational? It depends on the operation. If you use your drone for anything other than recreational purposes, part 107 rules apply, regardless of the time or location of your operation.
Imagine your neighbor asks you to take images of their house for the purpose of selling their home or inspecting their gutters. You’re not going to charge them for it; they’re your neighbors! Is that a recreational purpose? While drone photography isn’t your business, and your neighbor isn’t paying you, this isn’t a recreational flight. This is because the purpose of the flight isn’t purely for your enjoyment. You’ll need a part 107 remote pilot certificate to do that.
Before you decide which category of drone pilot you are, you need to think carefully about all the ways you will be using your drone. Remember that goodwill and nonprofit operations fall under part 107. This includes operations like volunteering to use your drone to survey coastlines on behalf of a nonprofit organization. So, if you’re ever not sure which rules apply to your flight, fly under part 107. For more information on what type of operator you are, visit faa.gov/uas.