FAA Issues Stricter Rules for Hobbyist Drone Pilots

Under the new guidelines, recreational drone pilots must pass a knowledge exam and gain FAA permission to fly in controlled airspace.

Flying a quadcopter drone
The new rules for recreational drone pilots took effect earlier this month.Courtesy DJI

Hobbyist drone pilots in the United States face new restrictions after the FAA adopted stricter rules and regulations aimed at keeping the national airspace system safe and available for both manned and unmanned aircraft.

Under the new rules, which took effect this month, hobbyist drone pilots are no longer exempt under Section 336, which has been repealed, and now must obtain specific FAA permission under a new Section 349 to fly in controlled airspace or near airports, except in certain designated areas.

Notification to air traffic control when flying within five miles of an airport will no longer be accepted as the law requires a specific authorization, which cannot be handled over the phone. Hobbyist drone pilots will instead be required to use the FAA’s Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) system to obtain approval for their flights in controlled airspace. The system is expected to be available this summer.

Other recreational drone requirements detailed in the notice include a requirement to fly the drone within the operator’s line of sight and to give way to any manned aircraft. The FAA will also require hobbyist drone pilots to take an online aeronautical knowledge and safety test, which will become available in the fall. Hobbyist drone pilots may continue to fly in Class G airspace below 400 feet agl with no prior approval.