The model aircraft community is currently in a state of flux. Recreational flyers have been operating under the guidelines specified in Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act (FRMA) of 2012. However, Section 336 was repealed in H.R. 302, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. Information related to drones is in Subtitle B, sections 341 through 396. Here is an annotated version of H.R. 302 that might be easier to understand.
Even though it was signed into law in October of 2018, many of the provisions of the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act (H.R. 302) have not yet been formalized. The drone hobbyist community does expect changes, especially to the knowledge test requirement, soon.
H.R. 302 & Hobbyist/Recreational use of sUAS
- Repeals the previous law, Section 336, protecting recreational drone pilots
- In the beginning, recreational fliers were permitted by law to fly without specific certification or operating authority from the FAA. This is no longer the law of the land.
- Requires recreational drone pilots to take an aeronautical knowledge test and requires them to register their aircraft
- There are also new requirements for drone tracking and identification
that have not been implemented, yet…that were passed on December 28, 2020 and are now in the review process. However, they won’t go into effect for a while.
FAA Advisory Circular 91-57B – Hobbyist or Recreational use of a sUAS
AC 91-57B provides guidance to individuals flying drones for recreational purposes. Eight conditions you must meet to operate a drone for recreational purposes are:
- The aircraft is flown strictly for recreational purposes
- What is the intent of your flight?
- The aircraft is operated in accordance with or within the programming of a Community-Based Organization’s (CBO) set of safety guidelines that are developed in coordination with the FAA. The CBO rules established by the FAA are:
- register your drone
- mark the outside of the drone with your registration number
- carry proof of registration
- fly for only recreational purposes
- fly at or below 400′ of the ground
- fly within uncontrolled, Class G, airspace
- do not fly within controlled airspace without prior authorization
- LAANC – YES
- call local airport tower for permission – NO
- keep your drone within visual line of sight (VLOS)
- never fly near other aircraft
- never fly over people, groups of people, public events, etc…
- never fly near emergencies, law enforcement activities, firefighting, or hurricane recovery efforts
- never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- The aircraft is flown within visual line of sight (VLOS) of the person operating the aircraft or a visual observer (VO) who is in direct communication with the drone operator
- must be able to communicate without the aid of technology assistance
- The aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft
- Drone operator must obtain prior authorization if flying in Class B, C, or D airspace
- authorization is now obtained through LAANC
- do NOT call the local airport for authorization
- must adhere to FAA’s temporary flight restrictions (TFRs)
- must adhere to all other FAA airspace restrictions
- Aircraft must be flown not more than 400′ above ground level
- The aircraft is registered with the FAA, the registration number is externally marked, and proof of registration can be shown if requested by the FAA or local authorities
- register the drone at FAADroneZone
- must be at least 13 years old
- registration costs $5 and is valid for 3 years
- The drone operator has passed an Aeronautical Knowledge and Safety Test and maintains proof of test passage to be made available to the FAA or local authorities
- This provision has not yet been implemented but it will be very soon
Clarification of sUAS Use in Research
Following is the response to my inquiry regarding sUAS use in UGA research from Matt Wells, the Associate General Counsel at the UGA Research Foundation, Inc. (Feb 2019):
What we can say with certainty is that if there is money changing hands anywhere along the way (assistanceship, sponsored research, salary, etc.) the flight would fall outside of the hobby rules and require a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating. If the flight is in furtherance of research on behalf of UGA or a professor, it would require the same certificate.
If, however, the flight is made as part of a class that the student is taking for their own purposes, it may be a hobby use. There may be a bit of grey area there, so it is best to contact me for any further guidance. Keep in mind, though, that the FAA is not going to let us ‘get around’ their regs by assigning the flight of a UAS to a student.
To address your point specifically: if there is any money changing hands (even reimbursement of costs of flight – meals, lodging, travel, etc.) then the FAA is going to say that is non-hobby use.
When they say hobby/recreational – they mean “actually a hobby” or “actually recreational.” From my discussions with the FAA, the memo is envisioning a student who wants to fly a drone for footage for a project in his journalism class or develop/fly as part of an engineering class. Any deviation from that tangential-type use of drone is probably not a hobby use. It is very narrow.
UGA drone policy:
To summarize, if your research group is compensated anywhere along the way, your flight is considered commercial. In this context, assistanceships, sponsored research, salary and even reimbursement for meals and lodging constitute money changing hands. Furthermore, we are warned not to try to ‘get around’ the regulations by, for instance, me assigning a course project so you can fly your research plots. As a funded student researcher who is/wants to use a sUAS in your research, you are required to obtain authorization in the form of Part 107 certification.
NOTE: The lawyer’s answer to any of your what-if questions/scenarios will be to obtain a Part 107 remote pilot certificate.
Why is this hobbyist/non-hobbyist distinction important?
Hobbyist/recreational flights are permitted under FAA regulations listed at the beginning of this document. However, as soon as you are compensated, your flight is considered a non-hobbyist flight and you must comply with the Part 107. Money does not have to change hands to be considered a non-commercial operation. Remember, the decision criteria is “what is the intent of this flight?” If it involves the furtherance of your research or business, then you are a commercial operator!!!