Drone Regulations: What you Need to Know

Drones were a hot gift item last Christmas. It was reported that Americans purchased between 700,000 and 1 million drones during the Christmas season. Despite that, and despite a US Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") mandate in December that anyone owning a consumer drone that weighs between .55 pounds and 55 pounds must register the drone in a government database, less than half of these new owners have actually registered their drones.

FAA statutory guidelines provide that any owner of a small unmanned aircraft ("UAS") who had a drone prior to December 21, 2015, needed to register no later than February 19, 2016 and owners who purchased a drone or other UAS after December 21, 2015, must register before they first fly the UAS outdoors. There is a paper process for registering and a streamlined web-based registration system at: www.faa.gov/uas/registration.

Penalties for not registering are stiff and may result in regulatory and criminal sanctions. The FAA may assess civil penalties up to $27,500. Criminal penalties include fines of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years. The registration itself costs only $5.00, so the possible penalties for not registering far outweigh the cost of compliance.

By and large, the FAA has found that most “toy” drones priced under $100, weigh less than .55 pounds and probably do not need to register. However, if you purchased one of these drones for yourself or child, it is best to go to the FAA website to ensure you do not need to register.

If you are using a drone for commercial purposes, which is becoming more and more prevalent in the real estate industry as a sales tool for advertising properties, not only do you need to comply with the FAA rules and regulations, but you should also check all local ordinances in the area you intend to fly your drone. Chicago, Manhattan and Orland Park already have their own restrictions on drone use and the Cook County Forest Preserve District is also considering its own regulations. For instance, in Orland Park, drone owners may only fly drones over their own property unless they have received permission from neighbors or other property owners. If they violate the ordinance, fines range from $100-$750. It’s only a matter of time before other municipalities and governmental entities impose more regulations.

If you own a drone or are considering purchasing one, be sure to research all the rules and regulations that might impact your use or contact an attorney at Lavelle Law (847-705-7555) to advise you on the same.