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Drone Laws in Virginia

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If passing through the east coast, Virginia is an exemplary state to explore with your drone. It’s the home of Shenandoah National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Cape Henry Lighthouse, Great Falls Park, and more.

What are the drone laws in this state?

Virginia has federal and statewide drone laws but no local laws. Per federal law, pilots must always fly according to FAA Part 107 guidelines. State laws ban pilots from state parks and from trespassing on private property.

In today’s extensive guide, we’ll review the entirety of Virginia’s drone laws so you can be a safer drone pilot. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll know exactly where you can and cannot fly.

Let’s begin!

Federal Drone Laws in Virginia #

Virginia, like other states throughout the United States, is subject to a series of federal drone laws as instituted by the government.

These laws apply to all drone pilots, such as government employees, commercial pilots, and hobbyists.

Let’s go over Virginia’s federal drone laws now.

Agency Drone Pilots #

Government or agency drone pilots in Virginia such as the fire department or law enforcement must follow the Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 107 rules or obtain a Certificate of Authorization or COA.

Commercial Drone Pilots #

Are you a commercial drone pilot? If so, then Virginia federal drone law requires you to follow Part 107 guidelines as well.

More so, you’re required by the FAA to carry a Remote Pilot Certificate when flying your drone. The Remote Pilot Certificate is your drone license.

Those who don’t have a Remote Pilot Certificate will have to take the FAA’s commercial pilot test, which is known as the Part 107 exam.

» MORE: FAA Part 107 for Commercial Drone Pilots

The Part 107 exam will review your knowledge of emergency drone procedures, drone loading and performance, drone operation, flight restrictions, and weather protocol. The test is comprised of 60 questions in all.

Each question is multiple-choice with three selectable responses. You’re given more than two hours to complete the test, so use your time wisely.

You can get up to 18 questions wrong to score 70 percent and still pass.

It’s highly, highly recommended you study before taking the Part 107 exam. It’s a costly test to take, and retakes aren’t free either.

We recommend enrolling in an online drone school (we reviewed the best ones here), studying on your own, and using the FAA’s study materials as well.

» MORE: Best Drone Courses Taught by Experts

Once you have your Remote Pilot Certificate, be sure to register your drone through the FAA. This costs $5 and will apply for the next three years.

After two years, you’ll have to decide whether you want to renew your Remote Pilot Certificate. To do so, you can take the FAA’s recertifying exam.

» MORE: Renewal of Your Part 107 Certificate

This free online exam has far fewer questions than the Part 107 exam and can be done from the comfort of your home.

You must get every answer right, but don’t stress! The recertifying exam will mark your questions wrong as you complete the test.

Before you submit it, you can go back and change your wrong answers to correct ones.

Recreational Drone Pilots #

Virginia federal drone law applies to recreational drone pilots as well, which means always abiding by Part 107 rules.

As a hobbyist, you’re still required to carry an FAA-issued license known as the TRUST certificate.

The certificate is named after The Recreational UAS Safety Test or TRUST test.

You can sign up to take the TRUST test today if you don’t yet have your TRUST certificate. The test is 23 questions long. Again, all are multiple-choice.

You can take the test online at home or wherever you have a stable Internet connection. Every answer is marked right or wrong after you answer it, and all wrong answers are correctable before submitting your test.

The TRUST certificate, unlike the Remote Pilot Certificate, does not expire.

If you fly toy drones primarily, then you don’t have to worry about FAA drone registration. For those with drones that surpass 0.55 pounds, you will have to register your drone.

State Drone Laws in Virginia #

Next, let’s look at the multitude of Virginia state drone laws.

Code of Virginia 4VAC5-30-400 // 2010 #

Since 2010, the Code of Virginia 4VAC5-30-400 has prohibited the use of drones in parks.

Here’s the law in full: “No person shall voluntarily land or unlawfully operate within or upon any park, any airplane, remote control model aircraft, helicopter, unmanned aerial system, drone, balloon, parachute, or other apparatus for aviation.

‘Voluntarily’ in this connection shall mean anything other than a forced landing. Rescue and evacuation aircraft are exempt from emergencies and approved training exercises.”

HB 2012 // 2013 #

Enacted in 2013, HB 2012 reads as follows: “No state agency or organization having jurisdiction over criminal law enforcement or regulatory violations, including but not limited to the Department of State Police, and no department of law enforcement as defined in § 15.2-836 of any city, county, or town or any local agency having jurisdiction over criminal law enforcement or regulatory violations shall utilize an unmanned aircraft system until July 1, 2014.”

Now, it’s been some time since July 1, 2014, so it’s unclear if this law is still in effect as of the present day.

HB 2125 // 2015 #

HB 2125 is a law that requires search warrants for law enforcement when using a drone. The law adds Chapter 5 to Title 19.2.

Per § 19.2-60.1 of Chapter 5, the law reads as follows:

“No state or local government department, agency or instrumentality having jurisdiction over criminal law enforcement or regulatory violations, including but not limited to the Department of State Police, and no department of law enforcement as defined in § 15-2-836 of any county, city, or town shall utilize an unmanned aircraft system except by virtue and under a warrant issued by a proper officer pursuant to this chapter.”

Some exceptions to § 19.2-60.1 do exist.

For instance, the Virginia National Guard is exempt when using drones for training “to maintain readiness of its federal mission, when facilitating training for other U.S. Department of Defense units, or when such systems are utilized to support the Commonwealth for purposes other than law enforcement.”

Further, if law enforcement obtains evidence via drone when they need a warrant but a warrant was never issued, then the evidence “is not admissible in any criminal or civil court proceeding.”

HB 412 // 2016 #

Approved in 2016, the General Assembly of Virginia’s HB 412 adds Article 1 to Chapter 9 of Title 15.2, specifically, §15.2-926.3. Local regulation of certain aircraft.

Per §15.2-926.3, “No locality may regulate the use of privately owned, unmanned aircraft system as defined in §19.2-60.1 within its boundaries.”

HB 412 was set to expire on July 1, 2019, so once again, it’s not clear whether the law is in effect as of this writing.

SB 873 // 2017 #

The Virginia Acts of Assembly in 2017 passed SB 873, which was introduced to amend § 27-15.1 of the Code of Virginia.

The new amendment pertains to a fire chief’s authority over drones during an explosion or fire.

Per SB 873, the fire chief is granted the authority to do the following:

  • “(i) maintain order at such emergency incident or its vicinity, including the immediate airspace;
  • (ii) direct the actions of the firefighters at the incident
  • (iii) notwithstanding the provisions of §§ 46.2-888 through 46.2-891, keep bystanders or other persons at a safe distance from the incident and emergency equipment;
  • (iv) facilitate the speedy movement and operation of emergency equipment and firefighters;
  • (v) cause an investigation to be made into the origin and cause of the incident; and
  • (vi) until the arrival of a police officer, direct and control traffic in person or by deputy and facilitate the movement of traffic.”

In other words, the fire department has the authority to ban drones from the airspace where the fire is occurring.

HB 2350 // 2017 #

The last Virginia state drone law is HB 2350, which amends the Code of Virginia by introducing section 18.2-130.1.

This new amendment pertains to trespassing via electronic device as well as the penalties for peeping.

Per § 18.2-130.1, Peeping or spying into dwelling or occupied building by electronic device; penalty., the law reads as follows:

“It is unlawful for any person to knowingly and intentionally cause an electronic device to enter the property of another to secretly or furtively peep or spy or attempt to peep or spy into or through a window, door, or other aperture of any building, structure, or other enclosure occupied or intended for occupancy as a dwelling, whether or not such building, structure or enclosure is permanently situated or transportable and whether or not such occupancy is permanent or temporary, or to do the same, without just cause, upon property owned by him and leased or rented to another under circumstances that would violate the occupant’s reasonable expectation of privacy.”

If you violate the rule, then you’ll be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.

In Virginia, the punishment for a Class 1 misdemeanor is a fine of $2,500 or less and up to a year in jail.

Does Virginia Have Any Local Drone Laws? #

Local drone laws are enacted by cities, towns, counties, and villages to prohibit drones from flying in certain places (usually local parks but sometimes structures as well) or during certain events.

We were not able to find any local drone laws for Virginia. That said, drone pilots are still always required to follow the federal and state laws as listed to this point.

Virginia Drone Law FAQs #

Before we conclude, here is a helpful FAQs section to make navigating through Virginia’s parks by drone that much easier.

» Read More Can You Fly a Drone in Virginia Beach?

Can You Fly a Drone in a Public Park in Virginia? #

Virginia’s public parks, as far as we can tell, do not have any drone laws that apply to them.

We would recommend contacting the parks and rec association for the park you wish to visit and confirming their drone policy before you fly.

You don’t want to find out after the fact that you broke the law!

Can You Fly a Drone in a State Park in Virginia? #

Virginia’s state parks include Lake Anna, Bear Creek Lake, James River, Hungry Mother, Sky Meadows, Breaks Interstate, Smith Mountain Lake, Clinch River, and many more.

However, per the Code of Virginia 4VAC5-30-400 passed in 2010, drone pilots are barred from flying in any state park in Virginia.

Conclusion #

The east coast state of Virginia cracks down hard in its drone laws. Pilots are prohibited from all state parks without exception, and law enforcement needs to tread carefully when using drones to collect evidence.

When you are permitted to fly, remember to always follow Part 107 guidelines!

References:Code of Virginia 4VAC5-30-400 (link)HB 2012 (link)HB 2125 (link)HB 412 (link)SB 873 (link)HB 2350 (link)


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