The gift giving season is upon us. Some of you may expect to
give or receive a drone or model airplane. Whether a simple one
bladed drone or advanced digital camera-equipped quad-copter both of
these are considered a "UAS" and flying them is regulated by the
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Regulation of UAS (aka "Drones") in the hands of civilian pilots
took a big step forward December 14, 2015.
The Federal Aviation Administration announced
units weighing between 0.55 pounds
and 50 pounds must be registered by February
. Anyone flying a UAS without proper
registration after that date could face stiff penalties. Civil
penalties include a fine of up to $27,500 and Criminal penalties
include a fine of up to $250,000 and up to three years imprisonment.
UAS come in a variety of shapes and sizes and serve diverse
purposes. Regardless of size, the responsibility to fly safely applies
equally to manned and unmanned aircraft operations.
Currently, small unmanned aircraft systems ("sUAS") may be
operated for hobby and recreational purposes under specific safety
guidelines as established by Congress. Small UAS flown for recreational
purposes are typically known as model aircraft and weigh less than 55
The recreational use of sUAS is the operation of an unmanned
aircraft for personal interests and enjoyment. For example, using a
sUAS to take photographs for your own personal use would be considered
recreational; using the same device to take photographs or videos for
compensation or sale to another individual would be considered a
commercial operation and fall under a separate set of regulations.
Prospective operators should check with the FAA for further
determination as to what constitutes commercial or other non-hobby,
non-recreational sUAS operations.
Under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft
recreational UAS must be operated in accordance with several
requirements, including a community-based set of safety guidelines and
within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization
such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA).
Operators not operating within the safety program of a
community-based organization should follow the FAA's guidance at Know Before You Fly
. The Watsonville Municipal
Airport has a standing letter of prior notice for operations with a
local AMA chapter, the RC
Bees of Santa Cruz County.
The FAA has partnered with several industry associations to
promote Know Before You Fly
, a campaign to
educate the public about using unmanned aircraft safely and
responsibly. Individuals flying for hobby or recreation are strongly
encouraged to follow safety guidelines, which include:
2) Don't fly an aircraft that weighs more than
55 lbs. (these have different regulations).
3) Fly no higher than 400 feet and remain below
any surrounding obstacles when possible.
4) Don't fly within 5 miles of an airport
unless you contact the airport. If within 5 miles of Watsonville
Municipal Airport call (831) 768-3575 before flying.
5) Keep your sUAS in eyesight at all times.
6) Remain well clear of and do not interfere
with manned aircraft operations, and you must see and avoid
other aircraft and obstacles at all times.
7) Don't fly over persons or vehicles, and
remain at least 25 feet away from individuals and vulnerable property.
8) Don't fly in adverse weather conditions such
as in high winds or reduced visibility.
9) Don't fly under the influence of alcohol or
10) Ensure the operating environment is safe and
that the operator is competent and proficient in the operation of the
11) Don't fly near or over sensitive
infrastructure or property such as power stations, water treatment
facilities, correctional facilities, heavily traveled roadways,
government facilities, etc.
12) Check and follow all local laws and
ordinances before flying over private property.
13) Don't conduct surveillance or photograph
persons in areas where there is an expectation of privacy without the
14) Don't fly near people or stadiums.
15) Don't be careless or reckless with your
unmanned aircraft - you could be fined for endangering people or other