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Can You Fly a Drone in Public?

9 mins
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Since you brought your drone home, you’ve kept your training local. You know, like your backyard, the street you live on, maybe a few blocks over, that sort of thing. You finally feel ready to expand your drone operations.

Can you fly a drone in public?

Drones can fly in public but with limitations. You can’t ascend over 400 feet, and you’re not allowed to use your drone in restricted airspace such as military airfields, government buildings, or airports.

You’re also frequently banned from national and state parks with a drone.

Before you begin flying in public, you need to read this article.

The information we’ll provide will help you make safe, smart drone flight decisions to avoid getting on the wrong side of the law as your drone career (recreational or commercial) gets underway!

Can you fly a drone in public? #

To ask if you can fly your drone in public is to ask quite a big question, as “in public” is a vague term that can mean different things.

To help you decide the viability of your drone flight idea, we’ve put together a list of places where you’re likely able to use a drone versus those you cannot.

Places where you can probably fly a drone #

  • Your neighborhood

Although you want to break free of flying around your local community, we have to say that you’re perfectly within your rights if you use a drone around your neighborhood.

You don’t only have to fly on your own property, but you can take your drone for a spin around your neighbors’ property and other houses in your neck of the woods.

Even though your neighbor owns their home, they don’t own the airspace above their home, and that’s where you’re using your drone. The FAA has no laws against flying in this uncontrolled airspace.

However, you can’t use your drone in any invasive, privacy-breaking fashion, and you can’t fly your drone over other people’s heads either.

If you land your drone or it crashes and falls on someone else’s property, you can’t retrieve the drone without trespassing on their property, so that’s another good point to keep in mind!

  • Public parks

Remember the verbiage we used in this section. These are places where you probably can fly a drone but without guarantees.

We say that because the rules on whether you can use a drone in a public park vary wildly. Many states have no issue with it and don’t want you in state and national parks.

Other states prohibit drones from all parks, including public parks.

While you should always do your homework before planning a drone flight, a public park for flying is usually a safe bet.

  • Drone-designated airfields

Even if you’re restricted from operating your drone in public parks, many parks include designated airfields or areas where drones can fly.

Here, you’re likelier to share the sky with other drone operators just like you, so always be respectful and courteous. You don’t want to cause a drone collision just like you don’t want someone else’s drone hitting yours.

Places where you probably can’t fly a drone #

  • State and national parks

More often than not, expect to be barred entry into a state or national park with a drone.

The National Park Service in the United States oversees these parks and usually prohibits drones unless you have a permit or written permission.

Of course, we can’t say this about every state and national park in the country!

  • Wilderness Areas

A Wilderness Area is protected land. The National Wilderness Preservation System chooses which lands receive the designation of Wilderness Area and dictates which activities people can do on these lands.

While the National Wilderness Preservation System permits various activities in Wilderness Areas, you’re still not allowed to fly a drone here.

That goes for any Wilderness Area in the US, from Alpine Lakes Wilderness in Washington to Mount Evans Wilderness in Colorado, Pusch Ridge Wilderness in Arizona, Sandia Mountain Wilderness in New Mexico, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota, and anywhere else in the country that’s a designated Wilderness Area.

This is one of those instances in which no exceptions are made, so don’t ever visit a Wilderness Area with your drone!

  • Airports, heliports, and aerodromes

The FAA prohibits drone pilots from operating a UAV within five miles of an airport or heliport. Other countries do the same, which is when you hear terms like aerodrome instead of airport.

Manned aircraft enter and exit airports and heliports all the time. Between unmanned and manned aircraft, manned aircraft always have the right of way, so drones shouldn’t be around to get in the way.

You can sometimes obtain permission to fly near airports, but without that authority, don’t get any closer than five miles.

  • Military bases

Never plan a drone flight if there’s a military base in the vicinity. Drones are strictly prohibited from military bases, as the bases may include manned aircraft and other equipment that pilots shouldn’t get in the way of.

Your drone could end up being shot down for violating this federal rule! ** **

  • Crowded areas

Even if you’re allowed to fly somewhere public, the rules are usually narrowed when using your drone around large crowds.

You’re not expected to count the number of people in a crowd to assess whether you should use your drone. Just know that if you see a substantial number of people, it’s time to replan your drone flight for the day.

  • Arenas

Arenas of all kinds–from sports arenas to entertainment arenas–usually don’t welcome drones.

You might be able to fly within several hundred miles of an arena, but only when it’s empty. These buildings don’t want you interrupting an event or people’s enjoyment of it.

  • Critical infrastructure

Drones must stay away from critical infrastructure buildings, including health, energy, national security and defense, transport, communication, and water services.

The misdemeanor charge you could face otherwise may result in a fine of thousands of dollars and/or imprisonment.  

Tips for flying a drone in public #

In addition to avoiding drone use in the above areas, you should also check out this list of tips for flying your drone in public. If you’re a beginner pilot especially, we think you’ll get a lot of use out of this section!

Always follow FAA guidelines #

The FAA is the US’s leading aircraft authority. The organization establishes all the ongoing laws for drone pilots to follow. Since the FAA is a federal agency, you can consider its rules federal law.

That means no matter where in the US you call home, these rules apply. However, once you leave the US, the FAA no longer calls the shots. Instead, the country you’re visiting will have another drone authority to obey.

So what FAA guidelines do you need to know? Here’s a quick rundown:

  • You must have a recreational or commercial drone license to fly
  • If your drone weighs more than 0.55 pounds, you have to register it
  • You can only fly your drone during daylight hours unless with permission
  • Drones cannot take to the skies weighing more than 55 pounds
  • You cannot fly your drone higher than 400 feet
  • Your drone must always be in your visual line of sight
  • You cannot fly your drone faster than 100 miles per hour
  • You can’t fly your drone over other people’s heads unless they agree to participate in your drone project
  • You can’t fly your drone over moving vehicles

Know your state and local rules #

The list of where you’re allowed and disallowed to use your drone is subjective.

All 51 states in the US have their own state laws (well, most of them anyway), and many have local laws that clearly outline what behaviors drone pilots can engage in.

For example, although you often can’t fly in state parks, South Carolina doesn’t stop you. Other states have rules blockading drones from public parks, so it’s all relative.

We wrote guides to drone rules in every state in the US. Learn the laws inside and out in the state you call home!

Download a drone map and check where you can and cannot fly #

How do you know what restricted airspace versus uncontrolled airspace is? It looks the same, but it won’t on a drone app.

B4UFLY is the FAA’s drone mapping app, but it’s far from the only one you can use. If you have a DJI app, that manufacturer’s accompanying app is quite lauded among drone pilots.

The app should update its drone maps in real-time, or it’s useless to you.

Speaking of DJI, its drones won’t fly in restricted airspace, and you’ll receive a warning if you’re approaching a warning zone.

However, that’s not the case across all drone brands, so you should rely on an app first and foremost.

Don’t try to impress people with drone stunts and tricks #

You always have to maintain an eye on your drone, and ideally, control as well. Tricks and stunts sure do look cool, and we won’t deny that, but if you’re doing them at the expense of your drone, it’s a bad idea.

Besides, some drones can do tricks automatically, so you might not get the accolades from your friends you were hoping for.

Rather than try some high-risk stunt, use your drone in a way that feels comfortable.

Only fly in clear conditions #

Besides using your drone in daylight versus nighttime, you also want to ensure conditions are clear weather-wise.

You can still fly on overcast days, but when it starts raining, snowing, hailing, or otherwise precipitating, you don’t want to stay out there for long.

You won’t have much visibility, and drones aren’t exactly designed to get wet (unless you spent money on a waterproof drone, then disregard). You could fry your drone taking it for a joyride!

You also shouldn’t fly your drone in fog and wind, as you’ll find it difficult to maintain control.

Don’t violate other people’s privacy #

Last but certainly not least, please always be respectful of others when operating a drone. Most people don’t exactly trust UAVs, and even if they do, they don’t want one flying inches behind them.

Keep your distance, and don’t use your drone for spying or peeping tom activities!

Conclusion #

Pilots can fly their drones in public, but that doesn’t mean every last little place allows drones.

You frequently can’t fly in state and national parks (and sometimes local parks), and Wilderness Areas are always off-limits.

That also applies to military bases, critical infrastructures, sports arenas, crowded areas, and airports (well, unless you fly closer than five miles).

Since that’s a lot to remember at once, especially as a beginner, use a drone app to keep it all straight. Good luck and happy flying!


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