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Can You Fly a Drone in Key West?

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A broader part of the Florida Keys, Key West is the furthest point south in Florida and about 90 miles from Cuba. The island city has gorgeous pastel homes, breathtaking coral reefs, and beaches that attract plenty of snorkelers and divers.

You’d love to capture all the wonders from your drone camera, but can you fly a drone in Key West?

You can fly a drone in Key West, but you have to stay within five miles of Key West International Airport and follow all drone guidelines established by the FAA. Since Key West is a small island, using a drone here becomes easier said than done.

This guide will help you clearly distinguish where you can use a drone in Key West versus where you can’t, so make sure you don’t miss it!

Can you fly a drone in Key West? #

In our article on Florida drone laws, you’ll see no mention of Key West in the local regulations. So does that mean the city freely permits drones?

Well, not exactly.

» MORE: Can You Fly a Drone in Florida? (And Best Places to Fly)

You see, you can fly a drone in Key West, but determining where becomes the problem.

Key West is a tiny island measuring only 7.209 square miles. It’s 3.977 miles long.

Okay, so what’s the issue? Well, Key West International Airport[1], the major airport in the city, prohibits drone pilots from flying within five miles of the airport.

That’s the entire length of Key West and then some!

To further complicate matters, not too terribly from the airport, you’ll find the Naval Air Station Key West. As military airspace, you surely can’t fly there either.

So that leaves us with the question, where can you fly in Key West?

Well, you have to kind of go the long way.

Venture out to Wisteria Island, which some people call Christmas Island. It’s about 10 minutes from Key West. The island is opposite Key West’s bay.

There, you can see views of Key West without technically venturing onto the lands of Key West. You’ll have lots of picturesque blue waters surrounding you as well as fantastic aerial views of the island.

Of course, if you’re intimidated by the thought of flying over so much water, then perhaps this part of Florida shouldn’t be on your shortlist.

Even if you could fly closer to Key West like you wanted to, you’d still have water all around you. 

When navigating tight parameters as you must if you want to fly in Key West, we have to talk about using a drone app.

The real-time maps these apps include will let you see the military airspace from the airport and how far out each restricted area expands.

Note: Don’t leave home without a drone app downloaded on your phone!

Should I fly in Key West if I own a DJI drone? #

As most readers know, DJI drones have more advanced protections designed to keep pilots in uncontrolled airspace.

If you’re approaching a restricted zone, a DJI drone won’t even fly.

Considering the high cost of most DJI drones and the fact that your drone could end up grounded at any point (and you’re surrounded by all that water), unless you plan to use it well outside of restricted airspace, maybe reconsider bringing it with you to Key West.

What happens if you fly a drone illegally in Key West? #

Key West has alluring beauty but throwing the law aside to try to capture photos or videos of this part of Florida with your drone is inadvisable.

If you go through with it, you could incur the following punishments.

Fines #

The FAA mandates that drones should stay a reasonable distance from airports.

Violating FAA rules means breaking federal law, so the fines you’ll receive are much costlier than the smaller $1,000 fines you might have read about.

For each incident, the FAA could fine you $32,666.

The oddly specific sum aside, that’s a huge amount of money. Having a fine like that hanging over your head could lead to dire financial consequences, especially if you can’t afford the full fine.

Keep in mind that the FAA will charge you that amount each time you fly fewer than five miles from Key West International Airport.

Imprisonment #

Drone crimes can sometimes include imprisonment as well. The FAA seems likelier to fine you than put you behind bars, but you can never say never.

The terms of imprisonment for drone crimes start as low as 30 days and can last for months and sometimes even a year.

This punishment would be a severe imposition on your life, especially if you have to spend substantial time behind bars.

Drone loss #

Although civilians can’t legally shoot down drones, the military can, especially if your drone crosses into military airspace and puts operations at risk.

Your drone could potentially be confiscated as well. Either way, you’re losing your drone, and possibly permanently.

Florida drone laws to know before your trip to Key West #

Key West feels like its own tropical slice of paradise separate from the rest of the world, but it’s still within the United States, so you’re under the jurisdiction of the FAA.

As such, you have to follow these drone laws when you fly.

Carry your drone license #

Before flying in Florida or elsewhere in the US, you must have a valid drone license issued by the FAA.

Recreational pilots should carry the TRUST certificate, and commercial pilots the Remote Pilot Certificate.

You can obtain either license by taking an exam, although the scope of the exams looks vastly different.

The TRUST exam is taken entirely online, with fewer questions and the option to correct any wrong answers before submitting your test.

The Part 107 commercial drone exam is an offline test with more questions and no option to see wrong answers until you get your test results.

Another difference? The duration of your license. A TRUST certificate never expires, whereas the Part 107 license lasts only two years.

You used to have to schedule another Part 107 exam, but now the FAA lets you recertify your Remote Pilot Certificate by taking a short, free online exam.

It’s a far better option for staying current so you can enjoy Key West.

Register your drone if required #

Unless you pilot a toy drone, then the FAA mandates that pilots register their drones. If you own several drones, make sure you register each one.

FAA registration lasts for three years and costs $5 per drone.

Keep your drone within your line of sight #

We’re sure you don’t want to risk it anyway considering all the open waters of Key West, but even still, you’re legally required to always have eyes on your drone.

If it ventures outside your line of sight, the drone becomes a significant risk to everyone around you.

Only use your drone during daylight hours unless you have lights #

Waking up with the sun just feels natural in Florida, but you need sufficient daylight to use your drone.

You can enjoy flights until the sun sets, but once dusk hits, it’s time to pack it in and plan another day of flying tomorrow.

The FAA allows pilots to fly past dark if the UAV has anti-collision lighting visible from three statute miles. You must also enroll in ongoing online training or take another knowledge test.

Do not fly higher than 400 feet #

The FAA requires all drone pilots to adhere to the altitude limit of 400 feet. You can fly lower than that if you wish (and if it’s safe) but not higher.

Keep your distance from crowds #

The FAA’s Operations Over People law from 2021 prohibits all but Category 1 drones from flying over crowds. A Category 1 drone weighs 0.55 pounds or under.

If you see a substantial crowd, such as at a beach, and you don’t have anyone’s permission to use your drone in their vicinity, then don’t do it, especially if you’re a Category 2 or 3 drone.

Don’t use your drone in inclement weather #

Florida weather vacillates between sunny, balmy days and rain, often in an unpredictable fashion.

When you see a downpour on the horizon, keeping your drone in safe, dry conditions is best until the weather passes.

At least that usually happens quickly in Florida!

Conclusion #

You’re prohibited from flying within five miles of the Key West International Airport in Florida.

Considering that’s about the entire stretch of Key West, you’ll have to fly around this city rather than directly in it unless you can find permissible uncontrolled airspace.

If you’re looking for other areas around Florida where you can safely launch a drone, we recommend Sugarloaf Key, Scout Key, and Cranes Roost Park. Happy flying!

References:1. Key West International Airport (link)


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