One of the most commonly asked questions for someone looking to buy a drone is whether they will need a license to fly it, and second, will they need to register it. The answer depends on where you live, and the way you plan to use the drone. If you’re getting a drone, read on to see if you need to get your drone pilot’s license or not.
In the US drone hobbyists don’t need to have a license to fly a drone, but must register any drone that weighs over 0.55lbs (250g). Anyone operating a drone for commercial purposes must have a license, and must register any drone used for business.
The licensing requirement is set by the Federal Aviation Administration, or the FAA. In order to get a drone license, you must take an Aeronautical Knowledge test at an FAA approved testing center, and then submit your application online for your remote pilot certificate. It takes a bit of time and effort, but is really not as hard as it may sound to the uninitiated.
Do You Need a License to Fly a Drone?
According to the FAA, recreational drone flyers do not need a license to operate their drone. They are however expected to abide by the guidelines for safe use of drones, and to register their drone with the FAA if it weighs over 0.55lbs (250g). Beginning September 16, 2023, all registered drones will also need to have remote ID.
For anyone using a drone for commercial purposes, or any type of money making endeavor, they must have a Remote Pilot Certificate, also known as a drone license. Drones used for commercial purposes must be registered with the FAA, regardless of weight.
Those are the national level guidelines if you’re in the US. Each state has the right to create their own regulations as to where drones may be flown, and cities and regional governments may also limit the use of drones in certain areas and in certain conditions. But in terms of who needs a license and for what purposes – that’s consistent throughout all 50 states.
Be sure to check your state and local ordinances regarding the use of drones before you take off. A really helpful tool to know whether any given location is okay to fly your drone is the FAA’s B4UFLY app. It’s made specifically for recreational drone users, and is designed to let you know whether and where it’s safe to fly your drone.
Do I Need a License to Fly a Drone Recreationally?
If you are strictly flying a drone for recreational purposes, you do not need a license from the FAA. However, you are still responsible to know and follow all of the FAA’s rules for drone operations for hobbyists.
Recreational uses of drones include using drones for RC hobby groups, photography, videography, stunt flying, racing, FPV, and more. Be sure that none of your activities with your drone are earning you money in any way. For example, selling photos taken with your drone, earning a prize purse at a drone race, or taking payment to teach someone else how to fly a drone are all examples of activities that technically would put you in the professional drone operator category, in which case you do need to have a remote pilot license.
If you think you might need a drone pilot’s license for the type of flying you want to do, it’s a good idea to take a Part 107 training course before taking your Aeronautical Knowledge Test. See our resources page for the courses that we highly recommend.
Do You Need a License to Fly a Drone For Real Estate?
You must have a drone pilot license if you are looking to sell aerial photos and videos to real estate agents, or if you are a real estate agent flying a drone to get footage to help market and sell properties, since these are both commercial operations.
When you sell photos or videos that you have taken with your drone, you stand to gain money directly through the sale. This case fits fairly obviously into the requirement to have a drone license for commercial operations. You are making a profit by selling your drone videos and photos.
If you’re the real estate agent, however, and not selling drone photos, but flying the drone yourself to improve the quality of your listing with aerial photos, this is still a commercial use of a drone. You are hoping to gain financially through the use of a drone, and as such, you still need a drone license for this type of use.
Do You Need a License to Fly a Drone for YouTube?
If you are posting drone videos on YouTube, and if your YouTube channel is monetized, or if you plan to monetize it at any point in the future, you must have a remote pilot license. You need to have your drone pilot’s license at the time of filming videos, and not later when you decide to monetize.
This one can be a bit tricky, because maybe you got into drones and aerial filming as a hobby, and never intended to make a business of it. But then you started posting your videos on YouTube to share your cool videos with family and friends, and then your videos started gaining a following. Even in this case, technically, you should have had a drone pilot’s license from the very beginning, even if you didn’t plan to start making money with your drone videos.
But if you do have ads turned on on your YouTube channel, you are earning money with your drone videos. Even if it’s not much, it still qualifies you as a professional drone pilot, and you need to have your license.
Not to mention that the videos you put on YouTube reveal whether or not you’re following the rules. If you’re flying recklessly, or simply flying in a way that displays your ignorance of safe drone operations, it’s there for everyone to see. Taking the time to get your pilot’s license will help train you to fly safely, and keep you out of trouble with the FAA.
How High Can You Fly a Drone Without a License?
Whether or not you have a drone license, you must keep your drone below 400 ft above ground level. The exception is for licensed pilots who have gotten a waiver from the FAA for flight above 400ft AGL. Hobbyists cannot apply for waivers, so their absolute limit is going to be this height.
Drone flight is limited to 400 ft AGL for a very good reason. And that reason is that manned aircraft are required to operate above 600 feet AGL. Those limits for drones in the lower airspace, and airplanes in the upper airspace, should hopefully keep them out of each other’s way.
There’s really no good reason for a drone hobbyist to need to fly higher than 400 ft, and it’s really a pretty generous ruling. For good aerial photography of almost any location, your best shots are going to be well below the maximum limit.
If you’re worried about exceeding the 400 ft height limit unknowingly, don’t sweat it. Most drones have the ability to set a height ceiling, and they will probably come preset with the 400 ft limit in place. Check your user’s manual to see how to check your height limit settings, and how to turn it on if it’s not already.