What is an unmanned aircraft system?
Commonly referred to as drones, North Carolina law defines an unmanned aircraft system as "unmanned aircraft and associated elements, including communication links and components that control the unmanned aircraft that are required for the pilot in command to operate safely and efficiently in the national airspace system."
What is the difference between an unmanned aircraft system/drone and a model plane?
A model aircraft is an unmanned aircraft system that is flown solely for hobby or recreational purposes and is not used for any monetary or business means.
Do I need an exemption or license to fly if I'm only flying for recreational purposes?
No. However, the Federal Aviation Administration says that unmanned aircraft systems/drones should be flown a sufficient distance from populated areas.
Recreational users should always fly their aircraft during the day, within their visual line of sight, and should only fly aircraft that weigh less than 55 pounds (unless certified by an aeromodelling community-based organization and is not being used for business purposes).
For more information, visit the
FAA's website on hobby and recreational flying.
How do I know if my unmanned aircraft system/drone use is recreational?
Federal statutes require model aircraft to be flown strictly for hobby or recreational purposes. Recreational operators cannot fly for monetary or business purposes.
What restrictions are there as to where and when I can fly a UAS/drone?
Unmanned aircraft systems/drones should be flown a sufficient distance from populated areas.
Operation near and over stadiums, prisons, public events or directly over people is prohibited under state and federal laws.
For the safety of those in the air and on the ground, temporary flight restrictions can be enacted an hour before a scheduled event starts and last until one hour after the event concludes.
Temporary flight restrictions are specifically requested, so before flying aUAS/drone, check the
Federal Aviation Administration's website for any restrictions in the area. During a temporary flight restriction, you must fly at least 5 miles away from the center of the venue.
What are the Federal Aviation Administration's requirements to fly?
To fly your unmanned aircraft system/drone, you must comply with federal airspace authorizations and
North Carolina General Statutes.
The Federal Aviation Administration divides unmanned aircraft system usage into three categories: government, commercial and recreational.
- Government aircraft operators may operate under the Small UAS Rule (Part 107) or apply for and obtain a Public Use Certificate of Authorization.
- Commercial operators may operate under the Small UAS Rule (Part 107) or obtain a Section 333 Exemption.
- If you are operating for recreational purposes only, FAA guidance says that UAS/drones should be flown a sufficient distance from populated areas. Model aircrafts should be flown during the daytime, within visual line of sight of the operator and should weigh less than 55 pounds (unless certified by an aeromodelling community-based organization, and are not for business purposes.)
More information on federal requirements can be found on the FAA's website.
Do I need approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly for business purposes?
Yes. There are currently four avenues you can choose from to obtain the necessary approvals:
- Operate under the Small UAS Rule (Part 107) , which will require the pilot in command to obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate.
- Obtain a Special Airworthiness Certificate-Experimental Category for the UAS/drone you intend to use.
- Obtain a UAS type and airworthiness certificate in the restricted category for the unmanned aircraft system/drone you intend to use.
- Petition for exemption under Section 333 of the 2012 Federal Aviation Administraion Re-Authorization Act, which once received, would allow you to operate under a civil Certificate of Waiver or Authorization for civil aircraft to perform commercial operations in low-risk, controlled environments.
Of the four avenues, the first – operating under the Small UAS Rule (Part 107) – is the most popular mechanism for obtaining the necessary approvals.
Do I need a North Carolina operator permit if I passed the Federal Aviation Administration Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate Exam?
Yes, a North Carolina operator permit is still required for commercial and government unmanned aircraft system operators.
Successfully completing the Remote Pilot Certificate Exam demonstrates your knowledge of federal aviation regulations, operating requirements and flight restrictions affecting small unmanned aircraft systems. The North Carolina operator permit is designed to test your knowledge of North Carolina-specific unmanned aircraft system rules and regulations. A study guide for the Unmanned Aircraft System Operator's Knowledge Test is also available.
Where can I get information of the Federal Aviation Administration Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate Exam?
Information about the Federal Aviation Administration Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate Exam can be found on the FAA's website.
Where can I take the Federal Aviation Administration Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate Exam in North Carolina?
There are 16 commercial testing locations in North Carolina.
What are North Carolina's basic requirements to obtain a license to fly an unmanned aircraft system/drone?
In addition to Federal Aviation Administration requirements, an operator must be at least 16 years old and possess a valid driver license issued by any U.S. state or territory. In addition, you must pass NCDOT's Unmanned Aircraft System Operator's Knowledge Test.
What is a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization?
Certificate of Waiver or Authorization is an authorization issued by the Federal Aviation Administration to a government or commercial operator for specific unmanned aircraft activity. After a complete application is submitted, the FAA conducts a comprehensive operational and technical review.
What is a Section 333 exemption?
Section 333 exemption is a case-by-case authorization for certain unmanned aircraft to perform commercial operations prior to the finalization of the UAS Rule. On Aug. 29, 2016, the Small UAS Rule went into effect and is now the primary avenue for commercial operations.
Who needs to take the Division of Aviation's Unmanned Aircraft System Operator's Knowledge Test?
Any individual who plans to operate an unmanned aircraft system/drone within North Carolina for any purpose other than recreation must pass the Unmanned Aircraft System Operator's Knowledge Test prior to operation. The only exemption is for those individuals operating a UAS/drone under the authority of a federal agency of the United States, such as military personnel.
Who has regulatory authority over unmanned aircraft system/drone operations?
- The Federal Aviation Administration and the federal government have exclusive authority over airspace in the United States. The FAA establishes operating rules governing the airspace in the form of federal regulations.
- The state of North Carolina is responsible for ensuring that anyone operating unmanned aircraft systems/drones in the state understand North Carolina-specific regulations to facilitate responsible use of the technology – allowing the benefits associated with various applications of the technology to be realized while also protecting the safety and privacy of North Carolina citizens and visitors.
- The N.C. Department of Transportation's Division of Aviation is responsible for all public, non-federal, and commercial UAS/drone operations concerning knowledge testing, commercial permitting and stands as a primary point of contact for all state-related unmanned aircraft system issues. The Division of Aviation is not responsible for pilot certification, commercial licensing, airworthiness standards, law enforcement or airspace issues.
- The FAA does not have jurisdiction over indoor flight, which is governed by North Carolina general statutes.
What are the limits and exemptions in regard to use of unmanned aircraft system technology by law enforcement?
Law enforcement falls under governmental use and, therefore, must comply with both federal and North Carolina laws and regulations. Law enforcement is only exempt from North Carolina laws related to using unmanned aircraft system/drone surveillance in the following instances:
- To counter a high risk of a terrorist attack if the secretary of Homeland Security or the secretary of the N.C. Department of Public Safety determines that credible intelligence indicates that such a risk exists
- To conduct surveillance in an area that is within a law enforcement officer's plain view when the officer is in a location the officer has a legal right to be
- If the law enforcement agency first obtains a search warrant authorizing the use of a UAS/drone
- To photograph gatherings to which the public is invited on public or private land
What are the regulations on unmanned aircraft systems/drones regarding privacy?
A person may not use unmanned aircraft systems/drones to
conduct surveillance on a person or private property without their consent,
subject to the law enforcement exception described above. You may not
photograph an individual without their consent for publishing or otherwise
publicly disseminating the photograph. This does not apply to newsgathering,
newsworthy events or places to which the public is invited. All other state and
federal privacy laws must be followed when using a UAS/drone.
Are there laws regarding special imaging technology, such as infrared?
Yes. Special imaging technology, such as infrared and other similar technology, may be used solely for scientific investigation, research, mapping and evaluating the earth's surface. You may not use this technology to survey people or private property without consent.
Who do I call if I see somebody operating an unmanned aircraft system/drone in an unsafe manner?
If you see somebody operating in a dangerous manner, contact local law enforcement. In addition, you can call the Federal Aviation Administration's Flight Standards District Office in Charlotte, at (704) 319-7020, or in Greensboro, at (336) 369-3900.