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As the second largest state in the United States (second only to Alaska), Texas offers large expanses of land for drone pilots to explore and enjoy.
What are the drone laws in this southern state?
Texas enforces federal, state, and local drone laws. Federally, you must follow FAA Part 107 rules. The state laws run the gamut, including the prohibition of flight over correctional facilities and critical infrastructure facilities. Locally, you cannot fly over some parks.
In today’s guide, we’ll take you through the multitude of Texas drone laws so you know which apply to you. There’s lots of great information to come, so make sure that you check it out, especially if you’ve never flown in Texas before!
Federal Drone Laws in Texas #
In the United States, the government has created a series of federal drone laws for all states to institute. Texas is no different.
These laws apply to drone pilots at every level, from hobbyists to professional employees.
Let’s peel back the curtain and take a closer look at Texas’ federal drone laws.
Agency Drone Pilots #
Government employees such as law enforcement or the fire department–also classed as agency drone pilots–must abide by the Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 107 rules or obtain a Certificate of Authorization or COA.
Commercial Drone Pilots #
In Texas, federal drone law mandates that commercial drone pilots always follow FAA Part 107 drone rules as well.
According to FAA rules, a commercial pilot must have a Remote Pilot Certificate and active drone registration before flying.
Let’s talk about the Remote Pilot Certificate first.
The Remote Pilot Certificate is your license as a commercial drone pilot. It’s obtainable by taking the Part 107 exam, a specialized commercial exam that consists of 60 multiple-choice questions.
» MORE: FAA Part 107 for Commercial Drone Pilots
The Part 107 exam covers all the subject matter you must know to be a commercial drone pilot, from emergency procedures to drone loading and performance, weather effects, flight restrictions, operating equipment, and more.
You’re given two and a half hours to answer all the questions, and you must earn a score of at least 70 percent to pass.
Studying will surely help you do better on the test. While retakes are allowed, each test attempt costs money, so you want to minimize your retakes.
Be sure to check out our resources here to find an online drone course so you can study up.
» MORE: Best Drone Courses Taught by Experts
Then there’s the matter of renewal. The FAA requires commercial drone pilots to take an online renewal exam every two years before their Remote Pilot Certificate expires.
» MORE: Renewal of Your Part 107 Certificate
The renewal exam is all done online. Unlike the Part 107 exam, the renewal test tells you while you’re taking the test if you answered a question wrong.
Be sure to correct wrong answers, as you need a perfect score to renew.
Okay, so now onto drone registration. Commercial pilots must register their drones with the FAA. This costs $5 to do and lasts for three years.
Recreational Drone Pilots #
Texas federal drone law applies to recreational drone pilots as well.
That means that you’re also required to follow Part 107 rules when flying your drone.
The FAA has established that recreational drone pilots must have their own license when flying that’s known as the TRUST certificate.
If you don’t yet have a TRUST certificate, then you’ll have to sign up to take The Recreational UAS Safety Test or TRUST exam through the FAA.
The TRUST exam is a 23-question, multiple-choice online test. Your answers are changeable while you go through the test, and you’ll know if you got wrong answers as you go along.
Once you get your TRUST certificate, it never expires, but take good care of it. If you lose it, you’d be required to retest.
You’ll also likely have to register your drone with the FAA, the terms of which are still three years. This only applies to drones that weigh 0.55 pounds and up.
State Drone Laws in Texas #
Texas has its fair share of state drone laws, to say the very least, so let’s go over them now. Buckle up, as there are many laws to cover!
Texas Parks & Wildlife Policy #
The Texas Parks & Wildlife Policy outlines what’s appropriate in Texas state parks.
Under the section marked Technology, the policy mentions that in Martin Dies, Jr. and San Angelo parks, you can fly drones.
For any other park, you’re free to send in a filming permit request. The review period lasts several weeks.
Texas Administrative Code §65.152 // 2005 #
The 2005 Texas Administrative Code §65.152 is part of Title 31, Natural Resources and Conservation from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
You need both a Land Owner Authorization or LOA and an Aerial Management Permit or AMP.
Holding the latter gives you the authorization to “engage in the management of wildlife and exotic animals by the use of aircraft only on the tract(s) of land specified in the LOA. The AMP must be carried in an aircraft when the aircraft is engaged in activities authorized by the AMP.”
Further, “A pilot of an aircraft used for the management of wildlife or exotic animals must maintain, on a daily basis, a flight log and report. The daily flight log must be current and available for inspection by game wardens at reasonable times. Each AMP holder and pilot shall comply with all FAA regulations for the specific type of aircraft listed on their AMP.”
HB 912 // 2013 #
HB 912 covers the rules of the Texas Privacy Act.
In Chapter 423.002, (a), the rule is as follows: “A person commits an offense if the person uses or authorizes the use of an unmanned vehicle or aircraft to capture an image without the express consent of the person who owns or lawfully occupies the real property captured in the image.”
(b) makes it clear that this offense is a Class C misdemeanor.
In Texas, a Class C misdemeanor will only lead to a fine, usually under $500.
Although the charge isn’t very serious, it’s still not a good idea to disobey Texas state drone laws.
HB 1481 // 2015 #
Under HB 1481, which adds Section 423.005, it’s illegal for a drone to operate over a “targeted facility.”
The law then explains that a targeted facility is any of the following:
- “(1) a petroleum or alumina refinery;
- (2) an electric generation facility, natural gas generation facility, or nuclear electric power generation facility;
- (3) an oil or gas pipeline; or
- (4) a chemical or rubber manufacturing facility.”
If you “intentionally and knowingly” use your drone in a targeted facility or if you fly your drone “not higher than 400 feet above ground level,” then you’ll be charged with a Class B misdemeanor.
This is classified as a midrange misdemeanor that is punishable by fines of $2,000 and possibly 180 days in county jail.
Should you repeat this offense, then you could be faced with a Class A misdemeanor.
In Texas, a Class A misdemeanor carries with it much stiffer penalties, including fines of $2,500 and a year served in county jail.
HB 1481 lists some exceptions, as the following parties can use a drone around targeted facilities:
“(1) the federal government, the state, or a government entity;
(2) a person under contract with or otherwise acting under the direction or on behalf of the federal government, the state, or a governmental entity;
(3) a law enforcement entity;
(4) a person under contract with or otherwise acting under the direction or on behalf of a law enforcement agency;
(5) an owner or operator of the targeted facility;
(6) a person under contract with or otherwise acting under the direction or on behalf of an owner or operator or the targeted facility; or
(7) a person who has the prior written consent of the owner or operator of the targeted facility.”
HB 2167 // 2015 #
Passed in 2015, HB 2167 clarifies when it’s lawful versus unlawful to use an unmanned aircraft system or drone for capturing photographs.
It is lawful if done “for the purpose of professional or scholarly research and development or for another academic purpose by a person acting on behalf of an institution or higher education or a private or independent institution of higher education.”
Those parties can include students, employees, or professors of colleges.
It’s also lawful “in airspace designated as a test site or range authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration for the purpose of integrating unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace;
…as part of an operation, exercise, or mission of any branch of the United States military;
…if the image is captured by or for an electric or natural gas utility…
…with the consent of the individual who owns or lawfully occupies the real property captured in the image;
…if the image is captured by a law enforcement authority or a person who is under contract with or otherwise acting under the direction or on behalf of a law enforcement authority;
…for the purpose of fire suppression;
…for the purpose of rescuing a person whose life or well-being is in imminent danger;
…if the image is captured by a Texas licensed real estate broker in connection with the marketing, sale, or financing of real property, provided that no individual is identifiable in the image;
…of real property or a person on real property that is within 25 miles of the United States border;
…from a height no more than eight feet above ground level in a public place, if the image was captured without using any electronic, mechanical, or other means to amplify the image beyond normal human perception;
…of public real property or a person on that property;
…if the image is captured by the owner or operator of an oil, gas, water or other pipeline for the purpose of inspecting, maintaining, or repairing pipelines or other related facilities, and is captured without the intent to conduct surveillance on an individual or real property located in this state.”
HB 1643 // 2017 #
HB 1643 is an act passed in 2017 that deals with prosecuting drone criminal offenses.
Local governments are barred from regulating the usage of unmanned aerial systems unless the locality is operating the drone or a special event is occurring.
HB 1424 // 2017 #
HB 1424 establishes rules for the usage of drones over sports venues and other facilities.
According to Section 3, (b), “A person commits an offense if the person intentionally or knowingly:
- Operates an unmanned aircraft over a correctional facility, detention facility, or critical infrastructure facility and the unmanned aircraft is not higher than 400 feet above ground level;
- Allows an unmanned aircraft to make contact with a correctional facility, detention facility, or critical infrastructure facility, including any person or object on the premises of or within the facility; or
- Allows an unmanned aircraft to come within a distance of a correctional facility, detention facility, or critical infrastructure facility that is close enough to interfere with the operations of or cause a disturbance to the facility.
Certain parties are exempted, including:
- “the federal government, the state, or a governmental entity
- a person under contract with or otherwise acting under the direction or on behalf of the federal government, the state, or a governmental entity
- a law enforcement agency
- a person under contract with or otherwise acting under the direction or on behalf of a law enforcement agency
- an operator of an unmanned aircraft that is being used for a commercial purpose, if the operation is conducted in compliance with:
- (i) each applicable Federal Aviation Administration rule, restriction, or exemption; and
- (ii) all required Federal Aviation Administration authorization”
Those who own or operate the critical infrastructure facility and those with “prior written consent” from the owner or operator of the facility are also exempt.
Failing to obey the laws is punishable as a Class B misdemeanor for a first offense and a Class A misdemeanor for a second offense.
The sports venues listed in HB 1424 include “an arena, automobile racetrack, coliseum, stadium, or other type of area or facility” that seats at least 30,000 people.
Per HB 1424, (b), “A person commits an offense if the person intentionally or knowingly operates an unmanned aircraft over a sports venue and the unmanned aircraft is not higher than 400 feet above ground level.”
Law enforcement, commercial pilots, operators and owners of a sports venue, and those with written permission from an owner or operator of a sports venue are exempt.
The first offense is once again a Class B misdemeanor while a second offense is the Class A misdemeanor.
SB 840 // 2017 #
Passed in 2017, SB 840 establishes rules on drones capturing images.
This behavior is lawful if done:
- for “professional or scholarly research,”
- in airspace designated as a test site or range” under FAA rules
- if done by the US military
- if done as a form of satellite mapping
- if performed by a telecommunications provider, natural gas utility, or electric utility
- with the permission “of the individual who owns or lawfully occupies the real property captured in the image”
- if “pursuant to a valid search or arrest warrant”
- If law enforcement captures the image
- “at the scene of a spill, or a suspected spill, of hazardous materials”
- For fire suppression purposes
- For rescuing people in danger
- If to sell property by a licensed real estate broker
- “from a height of no more than eight feet above ground level in a public place”
- For oil, water, and gas pipeline safety
- “in connection with port authority surveillance and security”
- If done by a professional land surveyor or professional engineer
- If done by an insurance company employee or their affiliates to underwrite an insurance policy
Local Drone Laws in Texas #
Texas also has local drone laws to be aware of, so let’s talk about those next.
Harris County (Includes Metropolitan Houston) – Park Regulations #
The Harris County park regulations, which include Metropolitan Houston, restrict drone usage.
According to the regulations: “A person may not operate a drone or model aircraft in a park except in a specifically designated area, and the drone or model aircraft must remain in the operator’s line of sight, unless otherwise authorized in writing by the Park Superintendent.”
Texas Drone Law FAQs #
Do you still have a couple of pertinent questions about where you can and cannot fly a drone throughout Texas? That’s why we put together this handy FAQ section!
Can You Fly a Drone in a Public Park in Texas? #
As the second largest state in the country, you’d expect Texas to have a lot of public parks, and you’d be right.
From Lumberton City Park to Rainbow Park, Clyde Public Park, Lakeway City Park, Texas Avenue Park, and Bay Street Park, Texas has many green spots.
So what’s the drone policy at these parks?
Without a permit, drone flight is not permitted.
Can You Fly a Drone in a State Park in Texas? #
The rich variety of state parks throughout Texas makes this southern state one worth visiting.
You could always check out Inks Lake State Park, Lockhart State Park, Purtis Creek State Park, Colorado Bend State Park, Bastrop State Park, Ray Roberts Lake State Park, and others.
Martin Dies Jr. State Park and San Angelo State Park welcome drones, but the others do not unless you have a permit.
Texas may be on your must-see states list, but before you fly a drone here, you’ll have to follow the multitude of rules in place.
You’re always required to abide by FAA Part 107 rules, and you’re prohibited from accessing many public and state parks with your drone unless you have a permit. You also have to avoid certain infrastructure.