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Drone Laws in Tennessee

From the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the Dale Hollow Reservoir, Rock Island State Park, Cades Cove, Centennial Park, and more, Tennessee has many appealing attractions for drone pilots.

Before you charge up your drone for a day of flight, you must know the state’s drone laws.

What are they?

Tennessee has federal, state, and local drone laws. You must always follow FAA Part 107 rules, you cannot fly near critical infrastructure facilities nor open-air events, you must not use your drone for fishing or hunting surveillance, and you’re barred from flying in some parks.

This article will take you through every one of Tennessee’s laundry list of drone laws so you’re privy to what’s legal and what isn’t. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll be able to fly with confidence!

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Federal Drone Laws in Tennessee

In the United States, the country’s government institutes a series of federal drone laws for all states to follow, with Tennessee on that list.

These federal drone laws apply to government, recreational, and commercial pilots.

Here are the laws for each class of pilot.

Agency Drone Pilots

Tennessee federal drone law requires agency drone pilots to follow the Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 107 rules or obtain a Certificate of Authorization or COA.

These laws apply to government employees like fire departments and law enforcement.

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Recreational Drone Pilots

As a recreational drone pilot, per federal drone law in Tennessee, you too must follow the FAA’s Part 107 rules whenever you use your drone.

You’re required to carry a TRUST certificate when flying to prove your status as a hobbyist.

The TRUST certificate is issued by the FAA after passing the TRUST exam, also known as The Recreational UAS Safety Test.

If you have yet to take the TRUST exam, you can sign up for the test through the FAA.

The TRUST test is a multiple-choice exam that includes 23 questions divided into four different sections.

As you go along and answer questions, if you get any wrong, the questions will be marked as such.

More so, you’re given the opportunity to go back and correct wrong answers to earn a higher score.

The online exam is free to take. Once you complete the TRUST test, you’ll soon receive your TRUST certificate.

This recreational license does not expire, so you shouldn’t ever have to take the TRUST exam again. The only exception is if you lose the license.

Recreational pilots are required by the FAA to register drones that weigh at least 0.55 pounds and up. The registration will last for three years. 

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Commercial Drone Pilots

Tennessee federal drone law also applies to commercial drone pilots. You’re required as well to always stay abreast of FAA Part 107 rules when flying.

To prove your commercial status, you must carry a Remote Pilot Certificate as issued by the FAA.

The Remote Pilot Certificate isn’t handed out to just any aspiring commercial drone pilot but only to those who pass the Part 107 exam.

» MORE: FAA Part 107 for Commercial Drone Pilots

This commercial pilot exam features 60 questions in all. The questions are all in multiple-choice format with three answers available per question.

You’re granted two and a half hours to answer all 60 questions. If you score 70 percent or higher on the Part 107 exam, then you’ve officially passed.

If you feel nervous about passing, we recommend you check out our reviews of the best drone courses taught by experts. It will certainly help!

» MORE: Best Drone Courses Taught by Experts

The Part 107 exam is not free to take, so you want to maximize your chances of success the first time around.

Once you have your Remote Pilot Certificate in your possession, you also have to register your drone before you can operate it commercially. You can register the UAV through the FAA.

The registration is valid over the next three years.

Unlike the TRUST certificate, the Remote Pilot Certificate does expire, and that happens every two years.

Commercial pilots can recertify by taking an exam through the FAA.

» MORE: Renewal of Your Part 107 Certificate

This exam is a cakewalk compared to the Part 107 test. It’s online, it’s free, it’s a lot shorter, and your wrong answers are correctable while you’re taking the test.

It’s a good thing too, as you need to earn a score of 100 percent to recertify. 

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State Drone Laws in Tennessee

Tennessee has a significant number of state drone laws, so let’s go over those next.

SB 796 // 2013

First is SB 796, which was passed in 2013.

This law adds to Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 39, Chapter 13, Part 6 by inserting the Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act.

In Section (c) of the Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act, law enforcement is prohibited from using UAVs “to gather evidence or other information.”

However, per Section (d), drones are allowed to be used by law enforcement in the following capacities:

“(1) To counter a high risk of a terrorist attack by a specific individual or organization if the United States secretary of homeland security determines that credible intelligence indicates that there is such a risk;

(2) If the law enforcement agency first obtains a search warrant signed by a judge authorizing the use of a drone; or

(3) If the law enforcement agency possesses reasonable suspicion that, under particular circumstances, swift action is needed to prevent imminent danger to life.”

If law enforcement collects evidence that goes against the rules outlined in SB 796, then it “shall not be admissible as evidence in a criminal prosecution in any court of law in this state.”

SB 1892 // 2014

2014’s SB 1892 amends the Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 29 as well as Title 39 by including additional sections.

In Section 3, drones are permitted to take photos or videos in the following circumstances:

  • “Professional or scholarly research and development” in a higher education setting, such as a professor, student, or college employee or someone who is under contract with a college
  • In test sites the FAA designates
  • As part of a military mission, exercise, or operation “if the image is captured by a satellite for the purposes of mapping” and “if the image is captured by or for an electric or natural gas utility” so the facility can continue operations or inspect the facility
  • With consent from the property owner
  • As a law enforcement professional, especially those who are surveying a scene, preserving public safety, and taking air quality samples
  • At a hazardous materials spill
  • For fire suppression purposes
  • “For the purpose of rescuing a person whose life or well-being is in imminent danger”
  • If the photo will be used by a licensed real estate broker for financing, sale, or marketing a property (but no people must be identifiable in the photo)
  • To protect wells and gas and oil pipelines
  • By port authority security and surveillance

Sections 4 and 5 make it clear that you cannot use a drone to take photos of others.

For instance, if you’re using your drone “with the intent to conduct surveillance on the individual or property captured in the image,” then you’ll be charged with a Class C misdemeanor.

In Tennessee, a Class C misdemeanor can lead to a fine of up to $50 and possibly 30 days in jail.

In Section 5, it’s an offense if you take a photo per the rules outlined in Section 4 using a drone and then:

“(A) Possesses that image or;

(B) Discloses, displays, distributes, or otherwise uses that image.”

Then you’d be charged with a Class B or Class C misdemeanor. A Class B misdemeanor in Tennessee is punishable with fines of up to $500 and six months behind bars. 

SB 1777 // 2014

SB 1777 amends the Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 7, Chapter 4, Part 3 and details allowable drone behavior around hunters in the state.

Per Section 2, it is now unlawful for drone pilots to do the following:

“(1) Interferes with the lawful taking of a wild animal by another with the intent to prevent the taking;

(2) Disturbs or engages in an activity that will tend to disturb wild animals, with intent to prevent their lawful taking;

(3) Disturbs another person who is engaged in the lawful taking of a wild animal or who is engaged in the process of taking, with intent to dissuade or otherwise prevent the taking;

(4) Enters or remains upon public lands, or upon private lands without permission of the owner or the owner’s agent, with intent to violate the section;

(5) Fails to obey the order of a peace officer to desist from conduct in violation of this section if the officer observes such conduct or has reasonable grounds to believe that the person has engaged in such conduct that day or that the person plans or intends to engage in such conduct that day on a specific premises; or

(6) Uses a drone to conduct video surveillance of private citizens who are lawfully hunting or fishing.”

You would be hit with a Class C misdemeanor for the above charges.  

HB 153 // 2015

2015’s HB 153 amends the Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 39 regarding criminal offenses related to drone use.

The section added to the law is as follows: “Without the venue owner or operator’s consent, uses an unmanned aircraft to capture an image of an individual or event at an open-air event venue wherein more than one hundred (100) individuals could gather for an event.”

In other words, it’s illegal to fly your drone over large events.

HB 2376 // 2016

HB 2376 was added in 2016 as an amendment to the Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 39, Chapter 13.

The law adds this verbiage to Section 39-12-902(a)(1): “For purposes of professional or scholarly research and development by a person acting on behalf of a public or private institution of higher education.”

Drone pilots who are representing higher education facilities, be those public or private colleges, are now granted permission to operate a UAV.

SB 2106 // 2016

Finally, 2016’s SB 2106 amends the Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 39 and Title 40 regarding criminal offenses.

Per SB 2016, drone pilots cannot fly a drone within 250 feet of “any critical infrastructure facility for the purpose of conducting surveillance of, gathering evidence or collecting information about, or photographically or electronically recording critical infrastructure data” without the written consent of the business operator or owner.

Critical infrastructure facilities are defined as chemical or petroleum storage facilities, rubber or chemical manufacturing facilities, manufacturing facilities that use combustible chemicals, petroleum refineries, and electric power generation systems.

Local Drone Laws in Tennessee

Moving on to Tennessee’s local drone laws now, let’s take a look.

Metro Government of Nashville and Davidson County Ordinance 13.24.400

According to the Metro Government of Nashville and Davidson County Ordinance 13.24.400, “No person shall voluntarily bring, land or cause to descend or alight within or upon any park, any airplane, flying machine, balloon, parachute, or other apparatus for aviation.”

That does include drones.

The ordinance adds that “Any landing other than one caused by mechanical or structural failure of the aircraft or any of its parts shall be deemed to have been made voluntarily, and this shall include landings caused by error or oversight, negligence, or failure to comply with FAA regulations or rulings.”

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Tennessee Drone Law FAQs

Since the local drone laws only scratched the surface regarding flying a drone in a Tennessee park, we put together this FAQs section for your perusal.

Can You Fly a Drone in a Public Park in Tennessee?

Tennessee has many public parks for tourists and residents alike to enjoy, including Northview Optimist Park, Lenoir City Park, Newport City Park, Clifton City Park, Sevierville City Park, Lafayette City Park, and many more.

What are the rules about drone usage in a Tennessee public park?

Well, in Davidson County and Nashville, you are not allowed to fly your drone in any park. State natural areas also prohibit drone pilots unless they have a permit and/or permission.

Can You Fly a Drone in a State Park in Tennessee?

The majesty of Tennessee’s state parks can be witnessed throughout the state in Norris Dam State Park, Big Ridge State Park, Frozen Head State Park, Fall Creek Falls State Park, Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park, Warriors’ Path State Park, and many more.

Per the Tennessee State Parks website, “The use of drones in state parks, and state natural areas, is prohibited except in rare circumstances. Such instances require prior permission from the Park Manager and the issuance of a permit.”

Should you be granted a permit to use your drone in a state park, you must comply with FAA rules.

Conclusion

Tennessee has no shortage of drone rules, but that’s only for the safety of others as well as to maintain the beauty of the lands here. When you do fly, always obey Part 107 rules!

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References:
SB 796 (link)
SB 1892 (link)
SB 1777 (link)
HB 153 (link)
HB 2376 (link)
SB 2106 (link)
Municode Library (link)
Tennessee State Parks (link)