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Drone Laws in North Carolina

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From Grandfather Mountain to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina is rife with gorgeous sites that lure in drone pilots.

If you’re new to this state, you may wonder, what drone laws are in place here?

North Carolina has federal, state, and local drone laws, with the latter two categories featuring quite a plethora of laws to follow. Drones are barred from state parks, some cities and towns, and correctional facilities. Drone pilots must always follow Part 107 rules as well.

We have a lot of information on North Carolina’s drone laws to share with you in this article so you can be well-versed on the rules.

Let’s dive right in!

Federal Drone Laws in North Carolina #

North Carolina’s federal drone laws are created by the United States government for the guidance of commercial, recreational, and agency drone pilots.

Here’s an overview of these federal laws.

Commercial Drone Pilots #

According to North Carolina federal drone law, commercial drone pilots must always follow the Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 107 rules.

The Part 107 rules dictate that commercial drone pilots, before engaging in flight, must have a Remote Pilot Certificate, which is also referred to as a Part 107 license.

This license is obtainable by registering (for a fee) for the Part 107 exam, an official FAA test that quizzes you on the full scope of the Part 107 rules.

» MORE: FAA Part 107 for Commercial Drone Pilots

The quiz lasts over two hours and consists of 60 multiple-choice questions. You must get at least 70 percent of the questions correct to earn your Remote Pilot Certificate.

Keep the certificate on your person when flying your drone commercially.

After two years, the time will come to renew your Remote Pilot Certificate. The FAA now allows commercial pilots to take a free online exam for renewal.

» MORE: Renewal of Your Part 107 Certificate

The exam takes 90 minutes. This time, you have to answer 45 multiple-choice questions.

You must answer them all correctly, but the exam will show you wrong answers (if you get any wrong, of course). You also have the option to correct those answers to aid you in getting a 100.

Commercial drone pilots must also remember to register their drones with the FAA. The registration term is three years, and it costs $5 to register a drone.

Recreational Drone Pilots #

North Carolina drone law requires hobbyist pilots to follow Part 107 rules as instituted by the FAA.

You also have to register your drone in most cases. The FAA does not require drone registration if your UAV weighs 0.55 pounds or less. For any drone(s) heavier than that, you do have to register it.

The FAA also requires you to carry a TRUST certificate. If you don’t already have one, then you’ll have to take The Recreational UAS Safety Test or TRUST.

The TRUST exam is a quick, free, online quiz with multiple-choice questions.

If you happen to get any questions wrong along the way, the incorrect answers will be displayed as such. You can go back and change them if you want.

You’ll then be issued your TRUST certificate, which doesn’t expire.

Agency Drone Pilots #

The last group of drone pilots subject to North Carolina federal drone law, agency drone pilots include law enforcement, fire departments, and other areas of government that use drones.

You must have a Certificate of Authorization or COA or follow Part 107 rules.

State Drone Laws in North Carolina #

Next, let’s look at North Carolina’s state drone laws.

SB 744 // 2014 #

SB 744 tacks on additional drone flight requirements for agency, commercial, and recreational drone pilots besides the federal drone laws outlined in the section prior.

Agency drone pilots in North Carolina must pass the UAS Knowledge Test issued by the North Carolina Department of Transportation or NCDOT. Upon passing that test, you also have to apply for a permit.

Hobbyist pilots need a permit as well through the North Carolina Division of Aviation.

Commercial pilots have to take the NCDOT’s UAS Knowledge Test as well and carry a state permit when flying a drone.

Getting the permit requires you to have an FAA-issued Remote Pilot Certificate or FAA authorization for commercial drone flights.

You may also need a North Carolina UAS Commercial Operators Permit if you’re flying according to a 333 Exemption or 14 CFR Part 107 rules.

NCAC 13.B 1204 // 2018 #

The NC Division of Parks & Recreation, in its NCAC 13.B 1204 regulations, limits what behaviors are permitted at state parks throughout North Carolina.

The policy on drones is as follows: “Park visitors are prohibited from ascending or taking off within or upon any state park area or state park water surface, of any airplane, flying machine (including drones, unmanned aircrafts, and quadcopters), balloon, parachute, glider, hang glider (except with permit at Jockey’s Ridge State Park), or other apparatus for aviation.”

You also cannot, under state law, launch or recover a drone on North Carolina state property.

Drone flight in state parks may in some cases be permitted if you have a Special Activity Permit. You can apply for such a permit here (link).

SB 446 // 2015 #

Passed in 2015, SB 446 is primarily about franchised dealer loaner vehicles but does include some drone policy as well.

The North Carolina Chief Information Officer is granted the right to permit the operation and purchase of drones in the state.

HB 337 // 2017 #

Adding to North Carolina’s laws “governing the use of unmanned aircraft systems,” HB 337 permits drones for emergency management activities.

The activities include flood plan mapping, hazard risk management, preliminary damage assessments, search and rescue, area reconnaissance, and incident commands.

HB 128 // 2017 #

HB 128 was introduced in 2017 to bar the use of drones near federal or state correctional facilities as well as local confinement facilities.

According to §15A-300.3. Use of an unmanned aircraft system near a confinement or correctional facility prohibited., (a), “No person, entity, or State agency shall use an unmanned aircraft system within either a horizontal distance of 500 feet, or a vertical distance of 250 feet from any local confinement facility, as defined in G.S. 153A-217, or State or federal correctional facility.

For the purpose of this section, horizontal distance shall extend outward from the furthest exterior building walls, perimeter fences, and permanent fixed perimeter, or from another boundary clearly marked with posted notices. Posted notices shall be conspicuously posted not more than 100 yards apart along a marked boundary and comply with Department of Transportation guidelines.”

Section B explores some exceptions to the above rule. The exceptions include:

“(1) A person operating an unmanned aircraft system with written consent from the official in responsible charge of the facility.

(2) A law enforcement officer using an unmanned aircraft system in accordance with G.S. 15A-300.1(c).

(3) A public utility, as defined in G.S. 62-3(23), a provider, as defined in G.S. 146-29.2(a)(6), or a commercial entity, provided that the public entity, provider, or commercial entity complies with all of the following:

a. The unmanned aircraft system must not be used within either a horizontal distance of 150 feet, or within a vertical distance of 150 feet from any local confinement facility or State or federal correctional facility.

b. Notifies the official in responsible charge of the facility at least 24 hours prior to operating the unmanned aircraft system. A commercial entity operating in compliance with G.S. 15A-300.2 and pursuant to the provisions of this subdivision is exempt from the 24-hour notice requirement.

c. Uses the unmanned aircraft system for the purpose of inspecting public utility or provider transmission lines, equipment, or communication infrastructure or for another purpose directly related to the business of the public utility, provider, or commercial entity.

d. Uses the unmanned aircraft system for commercial purposes pursuant to and in compliance with (i) Federal Aviation Administration regulations, authorizations, or exemptions and (ii) Article 10 of Chapter 63 of the General Statutes.

e. The person operating the unmanned aircraft system does not physically enter the prohibited space without an escort from the facility.

  1. An emergency management agency, as defined in G.S. 166A-19.3, emergency medical services personnel, firefighters, and law enforcement officers, when using an unmanned aircraft system in response to an emergency.”

Failing to follow the provisions set forth in HB 128 can lead to a Class H felony charge. You’d be fined up to $1,500.

You could also be charged with a Class I felony if you disobey the above law and “attempt to deliver, contraband to a local confinement facility or State or federal correctional facility.” The punishment is a fee of at least $1,000.

Local Drone Laws in North Carolina #

North Carolina has an assortment of local drone laws that pilots must heed. Let’s go over the various laws now.

Town of Beech Mountain – Municipal Ordinance // 2017 #

In Beech Mountain, the municipal ordinance passed in 2017 bars drone flight.

The law on drone usage is included in §94.35 Prohibited Activities, (A) Model aircraft and unmanned aircraft on Town property, and reads as follows:

“Launch, recovery or operation of model aircraft or unmanned aircraft is prohibited on all Town-owned property without specific written permission from the Town Manager or designee, who may allow it for governmental purposes to include, but not be limited to photography, so long as the operation of the model aircraft or unmanned aircraft is done in accordance with the requirements of the Federal Aviation Administration and North Carolina General Statutes.”

According to (B) Use of model aircraft and unmanned aircraft in public vehicular areas and common areas., you cannot launch, use, or recover a drone from “any public vehicular area, common area for town homes, apartments, or condominiums, nor shall any such model aircraft or unmanned aircraft be launched, recovered, or operated upon any multi-family property within the jurisdiction.”

Gaston County – Parks and Recreation Drone Policy #

The Parks and Recreation Drone Policy in Gaston County does not permit drones in a park throughout the county unless you have a permit.

However, you are allowed to utilize the Lewis Brooks Airfield special use facility for drone flights.

City of Raleigh – Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources Drone Policy #

Raleigh’s Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources Drone Policy limits where you can fly your drone in the city.

You’re barred from the Dorothea Dix Cemetery, the O’Rorke Catholic Cemetery, the Mt. Hope Cemetery, and the City Cemetery.

You cannot fly your UAV around Lake Wheeler, Lake Johnson, Shelley Lake, Forest Ridge Lake, or Lake Lynn.

You’re also prohibited from these nature preserves: Walnut Creek Wetland Park, Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve, Durant Nature Preserve, and the Annie Louise Wilkerson, MD Nature Preserve.

If your drone is within a 400-gram limit, then you’re permitted to use it at Baileywick Park, Eastgate Park, Spring Forest Park, Marsh Creek Park, Dorothea Dix Park, and Southgate Park. 

City of Kannapolis – Municipal Law #

The Kannapolis municipal law, in Section 12-31. – Aviation, reads as follows: “It shall be unlawful for any person within the confines of any park to voluntarily take off, land or cause to descend or take off any airplane, flying machine, balloon, parachute, or other apparatus of aviation, except as expressly permitted by the city manager.”

Although the law doesn’t mention drones specifically, a UAV does indeed count as an “apparatus of aviation.”

Town of Chapel Hill – Municipal Ordinance #

Chapel Hill’s municipal ordinance gives law enforcement the right to enforce all drone rules the FAA has instituted.

North Carolina Drone Law FAQs #

If you’re still a little unclear on the drone laws in North Carolina, this FAQs section is a can’t-miss!

Can You Fly a Drone in a Public Park in North Carolina? #

Public parks are a common sight throughout North Carolina, but you might feel uneasy about setting foot on the threshold with a drone in tow.

In Raleigh, the state capital, you’re barred from flying a drone in some nature preserves. For other public parks in the city, you can operate a UAV but with restrictions.

For public park drone use outside of Raleigh, none of the laws we covered today addressed the topic specifically.

Thus, we’ll recommend that you contact the park and recs association nearest you to confirm if there are any existing drone policies.

Can You Fly a Drone in a State Park in North Carolina? #

Hanging Rock State Park, Lake James State Park, South Mountains State Park, and Lake Norman State Parks: North Carolina has 41 incredible state parks in all.

However, you’ll recall that the NC Division of Parks & Recreation drone law that prohibits the usage of drones in state parks without a Special Activity Permit.

Conclusion #

North Carolina has no shortage of drone laws on a federal, statewide, and local level. Keep the laws in mind as you launch your drone so you can avoid hefty fines and other criminal punishments!

References:SB 744 (link)NCAC 13.B 1204 (link)SB 446 (link)HB 128 (link)HB 337 (link)Beech Mountain (link)Gaston County (link)Drone Guidelines in Raleigh Parks (link)Kannapolis municipal law (link)


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