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Drone Laws: Where To Find What You Need To Know So You Don’t Get Fined Or Imprisoned

By Kishore Sawh on March 30th 2016

There’s a host of information coming out about drone usage as the proliferation of the type continues, but from what recent news has taught us is that as the audience of potential drone users expands, the need is greater than ever to have an understanding of the responsibility that goes with it, and the rules enforced.  Part of this, from what I can tell, is a lack of context, but given recent events in L.A., this must change.

There are more United States Air Force pilots graduating flight school as drone pilots than for manned aircraft, and this has been going on for years. Ingest that for a moment. Such is the proclivity for the USAF today which some feel we may be in the last generation of manned fighter aircraft. As technology in the military often is the catalyst for tech that trickles down to the consumer market, drone technology is one, and has spread like wildfire – it’s becoming a drone world. The problem is, of course, is that in the military, there are various syllabi for training and monitoring, and a system of accountability in place, but in the civilian world, there hasn’t been.

As someone in love with, and embedded in, aviation since birth, I could drone on about this for much longer than you’d be willing to listen, but I won’t. Instead, I’d just like to provide some information and context to drones in photography. Photographic drone equipment has brought a level of production value to so many genres of photography and for so many levels of photographers that one only imagines the tech metastasizing because it allows for what was once the reserve of big-budget studios. More and more wedding photographers, travel photographers, and all kinds are implementing drone usage to up the ante of their work at their discretion and at the request of their clients, so it’s going to be more prevalent every day. But there’s a problem…


Forget the intrusive nature of some drones or the claims of invasion of privacy against drone users that have arisen; it’s near misses with commercial aircraft that has called for and required major regulation of private and commercial drone usage be addressed. Last year, a drone was reported about 90 feet from a Boeing Triple 7 at Heathrow, a drone got in the way of Police chopper in Cali, and in Los Angeles recently, a drone flew within 200 feet above a Lufthansa A380 on approach to LAX. We’re talking about aircraft carrying 300 and 500 souls on board respectively, that move within very particular patterns now being interrupted with obstacles that can cause damage with catastrophic consequences. At the approach speed of these aircraft being around 150 knots, it means the drones are about 1 to 1.5 seconds away from collision with the jets.

Clearly regulation for safety is paramount to everything else, but of course, privacy and protection of property come into play, and the long road to regulation, setting a system of rules has materialized a lot of information that everyone operating or planning to operate a drone needs to be aware of. Failure to comply and adhere to the rules here could mean massive fines, imprisonment, lawsuits, and, of course, even harm to others. It’s even more complex in the U.S. given this is some form of federal superstate where laws differ from state to state. Thankfully, there’s an infographic from ALLDigital that helps to get a handle on major state and federal laws for all you drone users out there. Check it out below, but keep abreast of changes from the FAA, which you can do here.

Remember, drone registry has already begun as of December last year, and it will be your duty to keep abreast and ahead of the curve. The infographic below has been shared previously, but it’s a good starting point. For more background, you can have a look at the House Subcommittee’s hearing from late last year. A problem for many drone users is they don’t know where to look for information, so, given the dispersed nature of the information you’re required to know, here are some key resources for you that can collectively act as a great overall reference to operate safely and legally:

Know Before You Fly

The Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft

Law Enforcement Guidance for Suspected Unauthorized UAS Operations

Circular 91-57 (“91-57A”)


Infographic: What You Need To Know About Shooting Video With a Drone

Source: NoFilmSchool, AllDigital


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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Josh Dalley

    One detail that is missing for the 333 exemption is that you must hold an FAA pilot certificate. the following is from the FAA website. Basically, if you wish to use your drone commercially, you must be a certified pilot. Thanks for the great article.

    Is an FAA-issued pilot certificate required to operate a civil UAS under an experimental airworthiness certificate or a grant of exemption under Section 333?

    If the aircraft is issued an airworthiness certificate, a pilot certificate is required. 5
    Pilot certification requirements for petitions for exemption under Section 333 are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. While Section 333 grants the Secretary of Transportation flexibility with regard to airworthiness certification requirements, it does not grant the Secretary any flexibility with regard to airman certification standards as outlined in Sections 44703 and 44711 of Title 49 of the United States Code (49 USC). An FAA airman certificate is required to operate an aircraft in the National Airspace System.

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