Current US Federal Drone Law

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Effective August 29, 2016, there are two new sections of the Federal Aviation regulations that apply to persons who operate drones — one section for those who operate model aircraft* (“Part 101”), and another section for most everyone else (Part 107). I say “most,” because there also remains the existing Public Certificate of Waiver or Authorization for public aircraft operators (government entities), and the much more onerous, expensive and restrictive Section 333 Exemptions for those to whom they were granted, to fly drones for non-hobby purposes.

Here’s the breakdown:

For model aircraft* operations [Updated 05/19/2017]
Operate under FAR Part 101, where Remote Pilot Certification is not required.**

For most everyone else → 
Operate under FAR Part 107, where Remote Pilot Certification is required.

For Government Entities →
Operate under either a Public Certificate of Waiver or Authorizationor under FAR Part 107, where Remote Pilot Certification is required.)

For existing Section 333 Exemption holders  →
Operate under your exemption until it expires. Depending upon your clientele, or other special requirements, you might have no choice but to continue to operate under its terms and conditions. Frankly, there will be few who will have a need to continue to operate under a Section 333 Exemption.

* Model aircraft means an unmanned aircraft that is:
(1) Capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere;

(2) Flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and
(3) Flown for hobby or recreational purposes.
See: 14 C.F.R. 1

** If you fail to abide by everything required under Part 101 to operate a model aircraft, you will automatically be operating under Part 107, which requires aRemote Pilot Certificate with a small UAS rating. If you are not certified but you operate anyway, you would then be operating under Part 107 without certification, and you would be subject to all applicable federal criminal and civil penalties. (See: New Rulemaking Creates Uncertainty for Model Aircraft Flyers, Loretta Alkalay, Esq., Drone Law Journal, June 28, 2016 and Attention, Hobby Flyers: Come Monday Some Of You May Need An FAA Drone Pilot Certificate. Yes, Really., Former NTSB Member Hon. John Goglia, Forbes, August 24, 2016.)