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Can You Fly a Drone in El Yunque?

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El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico offers winding trails, dwarf forests, Taino-inscribed petroglyphs, and miles and miles of tropical rainforest. It’s a gorgeous slab of land and one’s that very popular for both photography and videography.

Can you bring your drone to El Yunque?

Drones are allowed in El Yunque National Forest, but if you’re taking photos or plan to capture video footage of the forest, you must have a commercial filming permit.

Ahead, we’ll talk further about the permit, including how to get it and what you might pay to use your drone in this beloved national forest.

We’ll also refresh you on Puerto Rico’s drone laws, so keep reading!

Can you fly a drone in El Yunque National Forest? #

If you read our post about bringing drones into Puerto Rico, then you’ll recall that compared to many other parts of the world, this island is a little more relaxed on drone rules.

» MORE: Can You Bring a Drone to Puerto Rico?

That’s not to say there are no rules or that certain historic sites aren’t prohibited for pilots, but you do get plenty of flight freedoms.

Take, for instance, El Yunque National Forest. You can fly your drone here if you so wish.  

YouTube is littered with footage of drone pilots and professionals showcasing the amazing sights and sounds of El Yunque as captured on their personal or commercial drones. You too will surely wish to emulate them.

If you have a permit, then you can.

Permitting information before flying in El Yunque #

According to the official page for El Yunque [1], which is managed by the USDA, UAS, and Forest Service:

“You need a permit to take pictures/film in El Yunque if you are planning to use drones or unmanned aerial system to take pictures.”

The Commercial Filming/Photography Proposal is available to download and print out here, and you’ll need to do so if you want a permit. You can also fill out your information first by typing it in and then printing out the form.

What kind of information does the Commercial Filming/Photography Proposal ask for? #

The Commercial Filming/Photography Proposal is a rather in-depth form, so let’s look at the information it requires:

  • Full name/company name
  • Project title
  • Production dates
  • Billing address
  • Authorized representative (“individual designated to sign a permit & accept responsibility”) name, title, and contact information
  • Type of project, be that a music video, corporate video, TV episode, documentary, feature film, TV movie, commercial, still photography, or a different kind of project entirely
  • A full description of your proposed drone activities and the parts of the forest you’ll use, including schematics and maps
  • A full overview of your production schedule, including how many people will be on set, location coordinates for filming on a map, production time, and breakdown time
  • A description of your activities such as a storyboard or narrative
  • Any required environmental uses such as weather elements, geologic features, animals, bodies of water, and use of vegetation that may be required (as well as whether it has to be removed)
  • A parking plan for any aircraft, equipment, and vehicles
  • A layout and stating plan that includes any portable restrooms, catering, and dressing rooms on the filming site
  • A description of the equipment you’ll use, including motorized or nonmotorized aircraft; if using motorized aircraft, you must include your pilot credentials, the quantity of aircraft, an equipment description, flight times, and a flight plan complete with coordinates
    • Other equipment can include portable toilets, generators, semi-trucks, pickup trucks, motorcycles, ATVs or four-wheelers, cars, and RVs
  • Any special effects or stunts planned, including pyrotechnics, wild or domestic animals, outdoor lighting, aerial stunts with aircraft, non-motorized aircraft (like hang gliders or balloons), weather machines (like fog makers, snow guns, or snow cannons), weapons, gambling, noise effects, or paramilitary or military exercises or training
  • Safety measures you’re taking

You’re also required to answer questions like whether you could use another location for filming besides El Yunque (and why you chose El Yunque specifically), who the copyright owner of the project is, when you plan to issue or air your project, and all the permits you need to bring the project to life.

Further, you need USDA Forest Service insurance with the certified holder box listed as United States of America, c/o USDA Forest Service, El Yunque National Forest.

You must have at least $30,000 in property damage insurance, $300,000 in case of an injury or death of a loved one, and $300,000 for the death or injury of more than one person.

Alternatively, you can set aside $600,000 for combined single-limit insurance.

How much will you pay to fly a drone at El Yunque with a permit? #

As part of obtaining and maintaining your Commercial Filming/Photography Permit, you have to pay both land use and cost recovery fees.

Let’s look at the costs of the land use fees first:

  • 1 – 10 people on location per day – $73 per day for still photography and $150 per day for video
  • 11 – 30 people on location per day – $150 per day for still photography and $200 per day for video
  • 31 – 60 people on location per day – $250 per day for still photography and $500 per day for video
  • More than 60 people on location per day – $250 per day for still photography and $600 per day for video

You can pay the land use fee at here.

The USDA site does mention that “fees are subject to change and required to be paid in advance.”

Then there are the cost recovery fees, which are categorized according to your monitoring and/or processing hours. Here’s a breakdown of the costs:

  • Category 1 – $136 (more than one hour and up to or less than eight hours of monitoring or processing)
  • Category 2 – $480 (less than eight hours and up to or more than 24 hours of monitoring or processing)
  • Category 3 – $904 (less than 24 hours and up to or more than 36 hours of monitoring or processing)
  • Category 4 – $1,296 (less than 36 hours and up to or more than 50 hours of monitoring or processing)
  • Categories 5 and 6 – N/A (less than 50 hours of monitoring or processing)

Here’s what the USDA says regarding cost recovery fees:

“In addition to the above use fees, cost recovery fees are typically charged for processing an application as well as for monitoring authorized use for compliance with the terms and conditions of the permit.”

Puerto Rico drone flight rules to follow #

Since Puerto Rico and El Yunque are in the United States, you’re still under FAA jurisdiction when operating your drone. Here are some laws and regulations to follow to ensure a safe flight.

You must have a valid drone license #

Whether you’re flying in El Yunque commercially (and with a permit) or recreationally, you’re required to hold a current drone license.

For recreational pilots, the license you need is the TRUST certificate. This official FAA hobbyist license is only obtainable by taking The Recreational UAS Safety Test.

The test is free to take and can be done online, so you can get your certificate in little time.

You’ll have to answer a little over 20 multiple-choice questions on FAA guidelines. If you happen to answer a question wrong, you’ll see the correct answer displayed and can change your answer.

Commercial pilots need a Remote Pilot Certificate, another official FAA license. You won’t take the TRUST test but the Part 107 exam.

Sorry, but this one is not nearly as easy. The test consists of more than 50 multiple-choice questions, and none of your wrong answers are displayed at the time you’re taking the test. That’s because the Part 107 exam is not online.

If you earn a score of at least 70 percent, you’ll pass and will soon be mailed your Remote Pilot Certificate.

While the TRUST certificate never expires, a commercial drone license does after two years. Before your license is up, you can recertify by taking a short online exam through the FAA.

Your drone must be registered #

Recreational pilots who will fly in El Yunque with a drone that weighs more than 0.55 pounds must register it with the FAA. That’s also the rule for commercial pilots.

It costs $5 to register your drone, and the registration lasts for three years.

Stay within Class G airspace #

If you fly within the parameters of El Yunque National Forest, then your drone shouldn’t stray outside of Class G airspace.

Even still, we’d recommend an app like BF4UFLY or Aloft to track which kind of airspace you’re in.

You will be required to obtain authorization if you venture outside of Class G airspace.

You cannot fly over people or over moving vehicles #

The FAA has rules prohibiting pilots from operating their drones over people’s heads as well as over moving vehicles.

You can fly over stationary vehicles if the occupants of the vehicle are aware of and willing to partake in your drone project. You can also fly closer to people who are willingly involved in your project.

You must give manned aircraft the right of way #

Should you find yourself sharing the skies with any manned aircraft during your time in Puerto Rico, always yield to that aircraft, as they have the right of way. You do not.

You cannot fly higher than 400 feet #

The FAA limits your drone altitude when flying, curtailing you at a max height of 400 feet. That goes for flying in El Yunque, elsewhere in Puerto Rico, and throughout the rest of the US as well.

Your drone cannot exceed speeds of 100 miles per hour #

You’re also capped at a max speed of 100 MPH when operating your drone to prevent disturbing wildlife, hurting other visitors, or damaging the beauty of the rainforest throughout El Yunque.

Don’t fly later than civil twilight #

Throughout Puerto Rico, you’re permitted to fly during civil twilight hours, which start in the morning and last until the evening. Do not fly your drone past dark.

Your drone must stay within your visual line of sight #

At all times when your drone is in the sky, you have to keep it within your visual line of sight, which is how far out in front of you that you can naturally see, including when wearing glasses or contacts.

Your drone can’t exceed 55 pounds #

Drones that are heavier than 55 pounds should not be flown according to the FAA.

The 55-pound limit applies to the weight of your drone without any payload as well as to a lighter drone with a payload that weighs more than the recommended threshold.

Conclusion #

El Yunque National Park in Puerto Rico is a beloved destination for drone pilots, but before you plan your trip here, make sure you have a commercial permit to film and take photos.

You’ll also need some room in your budget, as the per-day fees can be quite costly if you have a large crew!

References:1. El Yunque National Forest – Passes & Permits (link)


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