To fly an unmanned aircraft for work or business purposes (thus being a commercial pilot), you are required to follow requirements set forth by the FAA’s Part 107 Small UAS Rule. This includes passing the FAA’s Aeronautical Knowledge Test to obtain a remote pilot certificate.
Model aircraft are defined as aircraft that are capable of sustained flight, flown within the visual line of sight of the operator and only flown for hobby or recreational purposes. If someone is flying model aircraft as a hobby, they must register their drone with the FAA and follow the Special Rules for Model Aircraft that are laid out in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Section 336.
When operators do not follow these rules, the FAA can pursue enforcement if the safety of the national airspace is at risk. The following are rules for hobbyists from this act:
• The aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use.
• The aircraft operates in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines.
• Operation must be within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization.
• The aircraft cannot weigh more than 55 pounds unless it is approved by a community-based safety organization.
• The aircraft operation may not interfere with manned aircraft. It must also give right-of-way to manned aircraft.
• When flying within five miles of an airport, the operator must give the airport operator or traffic control tower prior notice before conducting any operations.
There are state laws that also concern unmanned aircraft systems that have been combined into Texas Government Code Chapter 423, entitled “Use of Unmanned Aircraft.”
• SB 840 (2017): This governs the use of UAS for professional and or academic purposes, including research and development and scholarly uses.
• HB 1424 (2017): This bill prohibits the use of UAS over correctional facilities and sports venues.
• HB 1643 (2017): This prohibits UAS operations near critical infrastructure sites. It also prohibits local governments from regulating UAS except during special events and when used by that local government’s departments and agencies.
• HB 2167 (2015): Permits individuals in certain professions to capture images used in their profession, as long as no individual is identifiable in these images.
• HB 1481 (2015): This makes it a class B misdemeanor to operate a UAS over critical infrastructure if the UAS is less than 400 feet from the ground.
• HB 912 (2013): Lists legal uses for UAS operations and defines illegal use of a UAS.
• Section 423.003 Offense: Illegal use of unmanned aircraft to capture image. A person commits an offense if the person uses an unmanned aircraft to capture an image with the intent to conduct surveillance on the individual or property captured in the image. It is a class C misdemeanor. It is a defense to prosecution that the person destroyed the image as soon as the person had knowledge that the image was captured in violation of this section, and without disclosing, displaying or distributing the image to a third party.
• Section 423.004 Offense: Possession, disclosure, display, distribution or other use of an image. A person commits an offense if the person captures an image in violation of Section 423.044 and possesses, discloses, displays or otherwise uses that image. It is a class C misdemeanor for possession. It is a class B misdemeanor if the image was disclosed, displayed, distributed or otherwise used. It is a defense to prosecution that the person destroyed the image as soon as they had knowledge that it violated Section 423.003.
The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 was passed in October. This act further regulates UAS flown as a hobby. The regulations will be implemented in stages throughout the upcoming months and will regulate hobbyists basically the same as the Part 107 Commercial Remote Pilots.
Some of the basic rules are:
• Fly within line of sight, unaided by any device other than corrective lenses.
• Fly no higher than 400 feet above ground level or a structure when within 400 feet of the structure.
• No night flights.
• Flight during civil twilight must have strobe visible for three statute miles.
• Cannot fly over people, unless they are under cover, or directly involved in the operation.
• Three statute mile visibility.
• Eight hours after alcohol.
• Fly within class G airspace.
• At or under 100 mph.
• Give right of way to manned aircraft.
• No operations from a moving vehicle unless in sparsely populated areas.