The Common Law

Drone rules – the basics

Popularity of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly referred to as drones, has taken off. As drones become more affordable, we can only expect more individuals to take to the skies. Due to growth in the number of objects using public airspace, regulations are under way to protect the safety and privacy of our communities. These regulations are found at all levels of government: the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), state, and local municipal codes. Many of these laws are newly minted or still being discussed, so it is important to make sure you understand the lay of the land prior to lifting off.

I'm eager to try out my new drone. What do I need to know before I fly?

First things first – learn how to safely operate the drone, including reading the instructions and watching model-specific tutorial videos. To legally comply with FAA rules, every drone must be registered before it can be flown. For drones weighing between .55 pounds and 55 pounds, this can be taken care of at

Guidelines for recreational use follow a commonsense model through rules such as: flying no higher than 400 feet, keeping the drone in eyesight, staying at least 5 nautical miles (5.75 miles) from any airport, avoiding other aircraft, and abstaining from photography of persons where there is an expectation of privacy. A full list of guidelines and other safety information can be found at In Texas, you must receive authorization to fly within state parks, while there is a complete ban on flying in national parks. Austin laws focus on restricting flying over crowded areas and public events, such as festivals, the Capitol building, the Circuit of the Americas, and UT games.

I'm interested to use the drone for my business. Are there more regulations for commercial use?

National drone rules for commercial uses are currently under review by the FAA. While we wait for the new rules, the FAA has adopted the practice of exempting certain parties from current federal codes that restrict the use of drones for commercial purposes. To file for a Section 333 Exemption, you must file a petition with the FAA. Instructions on how to do this can be found at The exemption process can take several months, and it is expected for the new proposed rules, which do not require a Section 333 exemption for commercial use, to take effect as early as June.

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The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or

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drone, unmanned aerial vehicle, uav, FAA

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