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What is the Special Rule for Model Aircraft?

Operated from a pilot on the ground, an unmanned aircraft system or UAS is often called a drone. And according to the FAA, the number of registered drones in the United States is growing rapidly. Recent estimates state that within a period of 15 months, from December 2015 to March of this year, there have been about 700,000 U.S. drone registrations and the agency estimates that drone ownership will more than triple in the next four years.

Drone Registrations (12/2015 – 3/2017)


There are many different types of drones, including military, government, and business drones, but private use drones that fit certain specifications qualify for the Special Rule for Model Aircraft. These drones must be used exclusively for hobby or recreational purposes and under 55 lbs in weight. If so, they do not have to be registered with the FAA but pilots may choose to do so in order to help with the recovery of lost equipment.

Basic Rules

Here are some basics for complying with the Special Rule for Model Aircraft. Drones must:

  • Be flown 5 miles from the airport. If flown within a five-mile radius, the operator must contact air traffic control tower during normal hours of operation and request permission.
  • Always yield the right of way to manned aircraft.
  • Fly under 400 feet and the operator must always keep their drone within eyesight.
  • Never fly over groups of people, moving vehicles, public events, private property, or sensitive infrastructure.
  • Check and follow all local ordinances before flying.

If not flying under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, operators must register their UAS if it weighs more than .55 lbs and under 55 lbs. In order to register you must be 13 years of age or older and a legal resident of the United States. For more information on unmanned aircraft rules and regulations, contact our office today.

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