I WANT TO FLY MY DRONE IN NORTH CAROLINA - WHAT DO I DO?

A study guide brought to you by Felton Banks, PLLC. 

A downloadable PDF can be found here


Why are you using a drone?

  • For a business purpose -  as in I receive money or something of value (either directly or indirectly) when I use my drone.  EX: I'm a photographer and use a drone to shoot certain photos I then sell to my clients.  
    • THIS IS ME:   You are using the drone for a "commercial purpose" which means FAA and North Carolina law applies.  Jump to the section below titled "COMMERCIAL DRONE USERS.
    • NOPE, NOT ME:  See if any of the below categories apply. 
  • For fun!    I use my drone for recreation or leisure and do not receive anything of value for using my drone (other than pure pleasure and excitement).  EX: I fly my drone in my backyard with my kids and dog.
    • THIS IS ME:  You are using the drone for a "recreational purpose" which means some FAA laws apply and some North Carolina laws apply.  Jump to the section below titled "RECREATIONAL DRONE USERS." 
    • NOPE, NOT ME:   Make sure the above description does not apply - like really, really make sure.  Otherwise, see if any of the below categories fit.
  • For both -  as in I sometimes use my drone for a business-related purpose but I also play with it on the weekends for recreation only.   EX: I fly my drone around my company's construction site Monday through Friday but play with drone in my backyard on the weekends.
    • THIS IS ME:  Didn't your parents teach you not to mix your personal life with business?! Just kidding.  But you do have two sets of regulations to worry about.
      • For the times you are using your drone for a business-related purpose, jump to the section below titled "COMMERCIAL DRONE USERS."  
      • For the times you are using the drone for personal/hobbyist purpose, jump to the section below titled "RECREATIONAL DRONE USERS."
    • NOPE, NOT ME:  Check the above descriptions again. 
  • IDK, but I only use my drone indoors or inside a closed space.
    • THIS IS ME:  You are in luck because FAA laws only apply to FAA airspace (a.k.a everything outside or not otherwise confined by sides and a roof/lid).  Some North Carolina laws may apply, however, so be sure to review the NC-specific parts of either the "COMMERCIAL DRONE USERS" section or the "RECREATIONAL DRONE USERS" section, depending on the purpose of the drone.
    • NOPE, NOT ME:  I don't think you actually have a drone. 

RECREATIONAL DRONE USERS

FAA Requirements:   The FAA treats recreational drones as model aircraft so Model Aircraft rules apply.  Among some of the most important rules include:

  • Keep your drone below 400 feet and steer clear of surrounding obstacles.
  • Keep drone within visual line of sight at all times.
  • Don't interfere with manned aircraft operations
  • Don't fly drone within 5 miles of an airport (unless you contact the airport and control tower before flying and receive permission).
  • Don't fly near people or stadiums (this includes your daughter's high school stadium).
  • Don't fly an aircraft that weighs more than 55 lbs.
  • Don't be careless or reckless with your unmanned aircraft.

Before you do any of the above, however, you will need to register your drone with the FAA.  Before you panic, registration only costs about $5 and is a fairly simply process you can do entirely online.  Registration can be done here.

One last point: DO NOT FLY YOUR DRONE ANYWHERE NEAR AN AIRPORT OR WITHIN A 5-MILE RADIUS OF AN AIRPORT. 

North Carolina Requirements:  NC does not require a state permit to fly a recreational drone in NC but you must comply with all the FAA regulations above. 

RECREATIONAL DRONE USER CHECKLIST

  1. Make sure drone weighs less than 55 pounds (with equipment attached).  If drone weighs more than 55 pounds, refer to FAA aviation requirements for aircraft and pilots.  
  2. Register drone with FAA.
  3. Read all instructions that come with your drone and practice, practice, practice before flying outside. 
  4. OPTIONAL BUT RECOMMENDED:   Consult an insurance agent about coverage for your drone- particularly if yours is an expensive drone. 
  5. OPTIONAL BUT RECOMMENDED:   Consult an attorney about use of the drone to make sure you are 100% compliant (and not crossing into commercial drone territory).
  6. Be safe and #flyhigh!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMMERCIAL DRONE USERS

FAA Requirements:  The FAA currently does not allow commercial drone use and all commercial drones are essentially treated like aircraft.  This will hopefully change once the FAA finalizes its proposed rules for small drones weighing less than 55lbs.  A summary of the proposed rules can be found here

However, while you wait for the proposed rules to become law, you can still apply for a Section 333 Exemption or a Special Airworthiness Certificate that will allow you to fly a commercial drone for a limited purpose.  All drone operators must also have a valid Airman Certificate issued by the FAA or a sponsor with a valid Airman Certificate.

Before you do any of the above, however, you will need to register your drone with the FAA.  Before you panic, registration only costs about $5 and is a fairly simply process you can do entirely online.  Registration can be done here.

One last point: DO NOT FLY YOUR DRONE ANYWHERE NEAR AN AIRPORT OR WITHIN A 5-MILE RADIUS OF AN AIRPORT. 

North Carolina Requirements:  NC echoes the FAA requirements but adds a few more to the list.  Most notably, under NC law, all commercial drone operators must have a permit for commercial drones which requires the operator to pass a written NCDOT Knowledge Test.  A great study guide for the NCDOT Knowledge Test can be found here.

All commercial drone operators must also be 17 years old (which changes the FAA requirement of 13 years old) and all commercial drone operators must have a valid drivers license.  You should also note that you cannot even begin the permit process until you have passed the NCDOT Knowledge Test.  PS: If you have more than one person operating a drone, each operator must pass all requirements. 

COMMERCIAL DRONE USER CHECKLIST

  1. Make sure drone weighs less than 55 pounds (with equipment attached).  If drone weighs more than 55 pounds, refer to FAA aviation requirements for aircraft and pilots. 
  2. Register drone with FAA.
  3. Apply for Section 333 Exemption or Special Airworthiness Certificate.  (We recommend you consult an attorney during this process).
  4. Apply for an FAA Airman Certificate.
  5. Study for the NCDOT Knowledge Test.
  6. Take NCDOT Knowledge Test online. 
  7. Apply for NC drone permit with all the above. 
  8. OPTIONAL BUT RECOMMENDED:   Consult an insurance agent about coverage for your drone. (We currently know of about 5 insurance companies that offer small drone coverage; otherwise you may have to insure your drone like a small aircraft).
  9. OPTIONAL BUT RECOMMENDED:   Consult an attorney about use of the drone to make sure you are 100% compliant.  *This will be super important once the FAA finalizes their own rules. 
  10. Be safe and #flyhigh!