Got a drone for Christmas? Here’s what you need to know
Editor’s note: Aarons is also an FAA Safety Team (FAAST) representative for small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS).
So, Santa put a drone — officially called a small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) — under the tree this year. That’s great. They are fun and educational. Their stabilization, navigation, and geofencing systems are amazing.
They are wonderful for young folks with technical or artistic interests. After all, the UAS industry expects to create about 50,000 new jobs — high and medium tech — over the decade or so. New applications are popping up every day. Of course, they are a lot of fun for us older folks, too.
However, there are rules to follow if you operate a drone, just as there are rules required for operators of anything that moves — cars, boats, manned airplanes, trucks, etc. Most of those rules are promulgated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and can be enforced by local, state or federal law enforcement. All of the airspace from the top of your grass to 60,000 feet and the stuff that operates in that airspace is under the jurisdiction of the FAA.
If your drone weighs over a half pound — actually 0.55 pounds or more — you must register it with the FAA. The registrant must be 13 years or older. You register your drone at FAAdronezone.faa.gov/. Click on “Fly Model Aircraft Under Section 336” and follow the instructions. You’ll be issued a registration number that must be displayed on the drone if you fly outside. (Fly inside, and you’ll probably wreck the drone and your Christmas tree.)
Generally, you must follow these rules:
- Fly only for fun or recreation
- Follow the safety guidelines of a model aircraft community-based organization
- Fly at or below 400 feet when in uncontrolled airspace (Class G)
- Fly within visual line-of-sight, meaning you as the drone operator use your own eyes and needed contacts or glasses (without binoculars), to ensure you can see your drone at all times.
- Never fly near other aircraft.
- Never fly over groups of people, public events, or stadiums full of people.
- Never fly near or over emergency response efforts.
Ridgefielders must pay special attention to the “uncontrolled airspace” rule. The northern half of Ridgefield is in Danbury Airport’s class D airspace during daylight hours — the only time recreational drone operations may be conducted. Essentially, that airspace is centered on the airport and extends in a five-mile radius.
Take a look at Google maps. All of Ridgebury and Bennett’s Farm neighborhoods are in that arc. So too is most of the airspace north of the center of town. If you are flying within that arc, you must let the Danbury Airport traffic control tower know where and when you are flying and how high you intend to fly. If there’s a conflict, the tower controller will tell you. You must provide your drone’s FAA number as well. The tower phone number is 203-748-6375. Weir Farm (a national park zone) is off limits to drones, too.
Above all, use common sense. State reckless endangerment and negligence laws apply to drone operators just as they do to car drivers and boat operators. If you do something stupid and people are hurt or property is damaged, there can be legal consequences.
One of the best sources of information on fun, safe drone operations can be found at modelaircraft.org, the website of the Academy of Model Aeronautics. Another great resource is the FAA’s general drone information website at faa.gov/uas.Take a few minutes to learn the rules, then take care, be safe and have fun.