Drone dos and don'ts

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Drones can be popular holiday gifts, but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) wants new users to know the remote-controlled aircraft come with a strict set of rules.

FAA guidelines require drone owners to register the unmanned aerial system (UAS) if the device weighs more than 0.55 pounds. Users must be 13-years-old or older to register (though the FAA requires parents register for younger users), and the drone must be labeled with the registration number.

Registration only costs $5 and lasts for three years, yet failure to register a drone could result in civil fines up to $27,500 and criminal fines
up to $250,000 or imprisonment. Registration is required when flying in a yard or over your own property.

"It's like a drivers license or even a vehicle VIN number," Tom Fernandez, CEO of Skyview Aerial Solutions, said. "People can identify who that unit belongs to."

Fernandez is expecting to see an increase in drones over the holidays.

"We're seeing a lot of recreational users flying in places they shouldn't be," Fernandez said. "Specifically, here in the Lowcountry flying over or near the Ravenel, over or near people and also close to traffic."

The FAA also prohibits flying the aircraft within 5 miles of an airport. 
According to FAA records, more than 650 recreational drones are registered in the Charleston area as of May. The FAA predicts drone numbers will double nationwide to 4.3 million by 2020. With numbers in flux, Fernandez anticipates the rules will continue to change.

"As these things increase, we're going to see them in the air more often," he said, adding an easy reference point is downloading and viewing the FAA's B4UFly smartphone app.

According to the agency, users don't need permission from the FAA to fly a  UAS (aka drone) for fun or recreation, but should adhere to safety guidelines.

Drone Safety Guidelines:

  • Fly at or below 400 feet
  • Keep your UAS within sight
  • Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports
  • Never fly over groups of people
  • Never fly over stadiums or sports events
  • Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires
  • Never fly under the influence
  • Be aware of airspace requirements

Drone owners will also want to check their local laws before flying drones. Some municipalities such as the city of Charleston prohibit using remote control devices like plans or helicopters in any city park, recreational facility or playground. While town ordinances in Mt. Pleasant ban flying drones or any remotely controlled flying object, including kites or balloons at Memorial Waterfront Park.  

Drone registration can be completed online at https://registermyuas.faa.gov/.

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