Top 10 Drone Laws In The United States You Need To Know

March 14, 2024
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If you are operating Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for aerial surveys in the U.S., it is critical that you are aware of the drone laws so you can make sure you stay in compliance.

Drones are regularly used by aerial surveyors to capture imagery and/or collect lidar data to create maps or generate GIS models for various purposes, including land surveying, infrastructure inspection, agriculture monitoring, and environmental assessment.

To conduct aerial survey operations legally and safely, operators must comply with relevant regulations and best practices tailored to our industry.

This article explores the top 10 drone laws (in no specific order) in the United States that every survey drone operator should know in order to comply with legal requirements and promote safe drone usage.

#1. Registration Requirement

One of the fundamental regulations for operating drones in the United States is the requirement for registration with the Federal Aviation Administration.

In December 2015, the FAA implemented the Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) Registration Rule, mandating the registration of drones of certain weights for recreational and commercial purposes.

Logo for the FAA DroneZone Website
FAA Drone Zone

Under this regulation, drone owners must register their aircraft online with the FAA DroneZone website, and are required to provide their contact information and pay a nominal fee.

Think of this as a drone license plate.

Upon completion of registration, operators receive a unique registration number, which must be affixed to their drones.

Failure to comply with the registration requirement can result in penalties, including fines and legal consequences.

#2. Remote Identification (Remote ID) Rule

In December 2020, the FAA finalized the Remote ID rule, which mandates the implementation of remote identification technology for drones operating in the National Airspace System (NAS).

Remote ID enables real-time identification and tracking of drones, allowing authorities to monitor their movements and ensure compliance with airspace regulations.

Under the Remote ID rule, drones are required to broadcast identification and location information to nearby receivers, such as other aircraft and ground-based stations.

This information includes the drone's serial number, latitude, longitude, altitude, and velocity.

Additionally, drone operators must comply with specific requirements regarding the transmission of Remote ID data and ensure that their aircraft are equipped with compliant hardware and software.

#3. Part 107 Commercial Operations

For businesses using drones for commercial purposes such as aerial surveys, compliance with the FAA's Part 107 regulations is essential.

Part 107, also known as the Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) rule, establishes requirements for commercial drone operations, including pilot certification, operating limitations, and airspace restrictions.

Under Part 107, commercial drone operators must obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate by passing the FAA's Aeronautical Knowledge Test.

The test covers various topics, including airspace regulations, weather conditions, aircraft performance, and emergency procedures.

Additionally, Part 107 imposes operational limitations on commercial drone flights, such as daylight-only operations, altitude restrictions, and prohibitions on flying over people and moving vehicles without proper authorization.

#4. Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs)

Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) are airspace restrictions implemented by the FAA to protect the safety and security of specific areas during events or emergencies.

TFRs may be issued for various reasons, including presidential visits, sporting events, wildfires, and other hazardous situations.

Drone operators must be aware of TFRs in their vicinity and comply with airspace restrictions to avoid violating federal regulations.

Before conducting drone flights, operators should check for active TFRs using the FAA's TFR website or mobile applications.

Violating TFRs can result in severe penalties, including fines, civil penalties, and criminal prosecution.

#5. Airspace Authorization

Aerial survey operators must obtain airspace authorization from the FAA before conducting drone flights in controlled airspace or areas near airports.

Controlled airspace includes Class B, C, D, and E airspace, where drone operations are subject to additional restrictions and coordination with air traffic control.

Operators can request airspace authorization through the FAA's online portal or the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) system for expedited approvals.

#6. Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) Operations

Part 107 requires drone operators to maintain visual line of sight (VLOS) with their aircraft during flight operations.

While conducting aerial surveys, operators must ensure that they can see the drone at all times and maintain situational awareness of their surroundings to avoid collisions with obstacles, other aircraft, or people on the ground.

The use of visual observers or advanced technology, such as first-person view (FPV) systems, may facilitate compliance with VLOS requirements while conducting aerial surveys over large areas.

In our industry, VLOS requirements often limit pilot ability to fly aerial survey projects such as long-distance pipeline inspection or jobs with inaccessible terrain.

To support more complex or long-distance projects such as longer-range mapping, forestry surveys, and first-responder programs, more BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) manufacturers have brought their products to market.

To operate a BVLOS, the FAA requires a Part 107 BVLOS Waiver.

The process for obtaining a waiver can be complex and time-consuming.

There has been increased lobbying for BVLOS laws to be established, but currently the process remains to secure an FAA waiver to fly a BVLOS drone.

#7. Respect for Privacy and Property Rights

While federal regulations primarily focus on airspace safety and security, drone operators must also consider privacy concerns and respect the rights of individuals and property owners.

Operating drones in a manner that invades personal privacy or infringes upon property rights can lead to legal consequences, including civil lawsuits and criminal charges.

To avoid privacy violations and property disputes, drone operators should research local laws and determine regulations including how to:

  • Obtain consent from property owners before flying over private property.
  • Avoid capturing images or recordings of individuals without their consent, especially in areas where privacy expectations are high, such as residential neighborhoods or private events.
  • Exercise caution when flying near sensitive locations, such as schools, hospitals, government buildings, and military installations.

Commercial drone operators should familiarize themselves with these laws and incorporate them into their drone operations.

Ongoing compliance with regulatory developments and best practices is essential to promote the responsible use of drones and mitigate potential risks to public safety, security, and privacy.

#8: NDAA compliance and the Blue UAS List

NDAA compliance refers to a the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act which prohibits the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) or any private company that performs contracts for the DoD from buying drones manufactured in a covered foreign country, or by a company based in a covered foreign country, and also applies to drones that use flight controllers, radios, data transmission devices, cameras, gimbals, ground control systems, or operating software manufactured in a covered foreign country or by a company based in a covered foreign country.

“Covered foreign country” currently refers to China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.  

Logo for Blue UAS List

Other federal departments and several states have also enacted regulations to prohibit the purchase of and use of drones built in China.

As a result of these restrictions, the DoD’s Defense Innovation Unit has published the Blue UAS Cleared List which includes drones that have been validated as secure commercial UAS technology and are approved for DoD purchase and use.

#9. Import and Export Restrictions

U.S. laws and regulations governing the export and import of drones and related technology serve to control the transfer of drones to prevent proliferation, protect national security interests, and ensure compliance with international agreements and treaties.

The export of certain drones is regulated by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) administered by the U.S. Department of State or by the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

While EAR imposes fewer restrictions than ITAR, exporters must still comply with licensing requirements for items controlled under the Commerce Control List (CCL), including certain UAS components and technologies with potential dual-use applications.

Exporters may need to obtain licenses from the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) for the export of controlled items to certain destinations or end-users.

#10. Endangered Species Act or the National Environmental Policy Act

When conducting aerial surveys in natural or environmentally sensitive areas, operators must ensure that they are compliant with environmental regulations, such as the Endangered Species Act or the National Environmental Policy Act, depending on the location and scope of the survey project.

Operators may need to obtain permits or approvals from relevant regulatory agencies and consult with environmental experts to assess and mitigate potential environmental risks associated with drone operations.

How have the changing UAS drone laws impacted your aerial survey business? We’d love to learn more.

At, we are careful to comply with all laws regarding the import and export of drones when we sell new or used drones. Contact us if you have any questions.

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