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Drone Regulations and Aerial Video Safety: What You Need to Know

Part 107 FAA Certified Drone Pilot Stjepan Alaupovic discusses current regulations for drone operators and key practical considerations from licensing and certification to airspace classifications for aerial videographers doing drone video work today.

Drones are an incredible piece of technology. The Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) industry has gained much popularity over the years, especially in videography and filmmaking.

While air-to-air imagery is not a new thing, drones have made aerial perspectives easier to achieve for video professionals with smaller budgets. Drone growth is partially due to companies like DJI, which have created moderately priced drones with high-quality cameras and user-friendly software.


While they may look straightforward and toy-like, drones are not for everyone. Do a quick web search for drone crashes, and you will find countless examples of accidents. Many of these are due to errors and misjudgments made by the pilot.

In addition to the challenge of safely learning to use drone technology in your videos, the regulations and rules around drone operations can be a bit confusing.

Let's start with the basics to provide an overview of what to know when using drones in your video production business. The questions and answers below provide a straightforward checklist for preparing for a great drone video shoot.

Who’s in Charge?

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the governing body that regulates all aspects of civil aviation in the United States and other international waters. This includes regulation over drone operations.

The FAA collaborates with industry and communities to advance drone operations and integrate them into the national airspace. However, whether flying for fun or work, remote pilots must follow the rules set by the FAA according to United States law.

There is always a governing body that regulates airspace in any country. Make sure to research local drone regulations, depending on where you want to operate a drone. Often, the governing body will require drone operators to register and provide proof of liability insurance.

Who Needs a Part 107?

Regarding professional film and video production, flying a drone for commercial purposes requires a Remote Pilot Certification. A Remote Pilot Certificate is obtained by passing an in-person test at an FAA-approved testing facility. The test covers airspace, safety, weather, maintenance, pre-flight, and more.

The test is multiple choice and is about 60 questions. It is not an easy test; much of the material is part of what a manned aircraft pilot must learn. We strongly suggest using the FAA study guides or investing in a training module such as the Drone Pro Academy. DPA offers to cover costs for a re-do test if you do not pass the knowledge test on the first try.

Once you've passed your test, pilots will use the Integrated Airman Certificate (IACRA) website to obtain their remote pilot certificate. The certificate can take several weeks to receive, but a temporary certificate is available within a few days.

Following the FAA-certified drone pilot process, operators can develop their checklist for flying. Part of our process includes a detailed pre-flight checklist before any drone video shoot. Below are a few items and tips from our list that are essential to safe drone video production

How Do You Define the Airspace?

The first step to scouting a location for drone video production is determining the airspace you want to fly in. The two categories of airspace are: regulatory and nonregulatory. Within these two categories, there are four types: controlled, uncontrolled, special use, and other airspace.


To keep it simple, we will provide a brief breakdown of each of these airspace classifications.

Controlled airspace consists of 5 classes, including Class A, B, C, D & E. All require permission to fly a drone. Contacting the controlling agency for the class of airspace you are flying in is how to receive consent for drone operations. In addition, permission can be obtained by Part 107 certificate holders through approved FAA applications such as ALOFT and Airmap. These waivers include securing permission to fly close to airports, hospitals, etc.

Uncontrolled airspace or Class G airspace is the portion of the airspace that has not been designated as Class A, B, C, D, or E. Class G is the only airspace that does not require permission to fly a drone. However, drone pilots should remember that visual flight rules (VFR) minimums apply to Class G airspace.

The other (special) designated airspaces are restricted, prohibited, military operations, alert and warning areas.

Prohibited airspace areas are entirely off limit for drone operations; places like the White House, Camp David, and the National Mall fall under this airspace, and flying a drone in those areas could result in a loss of license, significant fines, or even jail time.

Restricted, Military Operations, Alert, and Warning areas are not entirely off limit for flying a drone, but they require prior permission, and pilots should fly with caution in those areas.

Only the FAA can restrict airspace. However, the FAA recognizes that drone safety is a partnership with local, state, tribal, and territorial government entities who have the right to regulate where drones are allowed to take off and land. Therefore, local restrictions are another topic to research before any drone video production.

We received some valuable insight on the local drone restrictions topic from Rupprecht Law, a legal firm specializing in Drone Law and Drone Attorney Assistance. “If you violate some state or local law, you get in trouble and go on a ride through the system and pay for your attorney to defend you.  Most people are interested in staying out of trouble, not in identifying the finer points of constitutionality of these state and local drone laws”, said Jonathan Rupprecht, Esq. of Rupprecht Law.

Additionally, Jonathan suggested the following guidelines on local and state laws for drone operations.

  • “Identify if the state has any preemption laws. Some states like Florida have state laws that preempt all the local political subdivisions from regulating drones. This becomes super helpful because you know you just comply with the federal law and the state law. Some states have preemption laws but still have rogue or ignorant counties and cities with drone laws on the books. It just means the likelihood of an issue is lower in these states.

  • If there are no state preemption laws, call up the attorney for the county, city, town, etc. where you want to fly and ask if they have any local ordinances. You might need to call multiple jurisdictional authorities.  For example, prior to the preemption language in the Florida State Statutes, I had county and town ordinances also applying to drone flying. Also, search through the ordinances/code for certain keywords such as "drone”, “unmanned aircraft", "model aircraft", "unmanned aerial", "UAV", etc.  Some places make up terms I've never seen anywhere. You might want to search by topic. Sometimes the drone related local laws show up in the recreational/parks section near model rockets, archery, javelin throwing, golfing, etc.”

It's critical for any drone pilot to identify the airspace they want to fly in. The earlier you know a place for a drone video shoot, the better

What about “No Drone Zones”?

The FAA uses the term "No Drone Zone" to help people identify areas where they cannot operate a drone or unmanned aircraft system (UAS). The operating restrictions for a No Drone Zone are specific to a particular location. Hospitals, national parks, wildlife areas, prisons, and other areas are typical examples of a "No Drone Zone."


“It is important to note that these No Drone Zones only restrict taking off or landing and do not restrict flight in the airspace above the identified area," according to the FAA website.

Some of the FAA wording can be difficult to comprehend. If you have location that is in question for your drone video, I suggest contacting a legal expert that can offer guidance on legalities of the exact location.

“On top of the commercial drone regulations and guidance the FAA has created, many other enigmatic legal issues that surround the operation of drones are popping up with other Federal agencies claiming some sort of regulatory authority over drones. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and the National Park Service have started to claim authority over the use of drones flying over whales or landing in parks,” according to Rupprecht Law, a firm focusing on drone laws.

For example, a common issue in Arizona is requests from clients to capture drone footage in state parks. Unfortunately, this topic is considered a gray area and where many drone pilots can get confused.

According to the Arizona State Park rules, "recreational drone use is prohibited in state parks. Commercial use will be evaluated with a Filming Permit for news, publicity, and promotional purposes. Film Permit rules require insurance and a current FAA drone registration permit. A final decision and any fees associated with access are at the discretion of park management. Access to areas beyond park boundaries (National Forest, State Trust Lands, Game & Fish, and other agencies) may require additional permission and permits. Please consult with the appropriate agency for details."

Simply put, the drone pilot will have to do the prep work for each location involving drone operation, especially when flying a drone in state parks.

You can find out if airspace restrictions exist where you plan to fly using the FAA-approved apps mentioned above. In addition, sectional/aeronautical charts and FAA-approved apps provide information on a specific location for airspace classification.


What About Flying Over People?

Most of us have probably seen the sleek drone ad from manufacturers or car commercials of an overhead shot of a crowded beach, boardwalk, or cityscape.However, drone operations over people are a bit complicated to understand. But, it is possible, according to the FAA, “the ability to fly over people varies depending on the level of risk that a small UAS operation presents to people on the ground. Operations over people are permitted subject to the following requirements:”

The FAA outlines four categories under "Operations Over People." While it is important to review all of these, categories 2 & 3 are most likely where video professionals flying DJI or similar drones will fall within. These categories include drones weighing over .55 pounds.

Categories 2 & 3 also discuss the use of Remote ID, which is the ability for anyone to be able to track information on your drone, during a flight. Remote ID includes aircraft identification, latitude, longitude, etc. Beginning on September 16, 2023, all drones purchased will require a Remote ID to be integrated into the system.

Category 3 also has essential rules to note for both drone pilots and for educating clients. For example, "The operation is within or over a closed- or restricted-access site and all people on site are on notice that a small UAS may fly over them; or the small, unmanned aircraft does not maintain sustained flight over any person unless that person is participating directly in operation or located under a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle that can provide reasonable protection from a falling small, unmanned aircraft.”

To recap, flying a drone over people will depend on several variables and the nature of your shoot. Therefore, drone operators need to understand these categories to educate clients about any limitations of a drone video.

What About Weather Conditions?

While it may sound obvious, many pilot errors are due to misjudging or simply not knowing enough about local weather conditions. Therefore, our pre-flight process includes researching the local weather conditions leading to a drone video shoot. That can be up to 7 days before a shoot in some locations.

The Remote Pilot Certification training teaches drone operators to understand a Meteorological Terminal Air Report (METAR) and Terminal Area Forecast (TAF). A METAR report includes wind direction, speed, temperature, barometric pressure, and cloud cover.


In comparison, a TAF report provides the same weather information as a METAR, plus information relating to whether rapid, gradual or expected temporary changes in some of the meteorological conditions.

In basic terms, METARs and TAFs are essential for drone pilots as they can affect the overall performance and safety of a drone video production.

For example, the weather can affect flight time, battery life, operating performance, and visual line of sight. In addition, weather can change rapidly, so pilots must check sites such as to find the current information for the city or location for a drone video shoot

What is a Temporary Flight Restriction?

A Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) is a type of Notices to Airmen (NOTAM). A TFR defines an area restricted to air travel due to a hazardous condition, a special event, or a general warning for the entire FAA airspace. The text of the actual TFR contains the fine points of the restriction.

Often, a TFR is issued for things like military or GPS testing, emergencies, sporting events, wildfires, national security-related events, presidential travel, etc.

TFRs are on the FAA website. The TFR will provide information such as the operations restricted, size, and the times of the restrictions.

TFRs also include details about who may get approval to fly in them. Only public safety agencies, first responders, and other organizations such as the media may be eligible for approval. To fly in a TFR, drone pilots must apply through the FAA's expedited approval process known as the Special Governmental Interest (SGI) process.

A Few More Things to Know

A standard rule that both new and experienced pilots do not follow is the "Visual Line of Sight" (VLOS) regulation. Visual line of sight means that the drone pilot or visual observer can see the drone without any obstruction. The drone pilot must be able to see the UAS throughout the flight with a vision unaided by corrective lenses.

Some other rules to note at the time of this article release is that drones cannot be flown faster than 100 miles per hour, higher than 400 feet in altitude, or closer than 400 feet to a structure. There are also other rules to note when flying near a critical facility. These can vary by state, but here in Arizona, it is within a horizontal distance of 500 feet or a vertical space of 250 feet of a critical facility.

Flying at night is also something a lot of drone operators hope to do. As you may have guessed by now, there are some rules around this topic. In a nutshell, the FAA defines “Night” as the period between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight. For most places, this is 30 minutes after the sun sets and 30 minutes before sunrise.

To fly a drone at night, the remote pilot must have passed their part 107 test, the drone must include anti-collision lights that are visible for at least three statute miles, and the FAA must issue a waiver. Special releases can take up to 90 days, so this is something you should submit well in advance of your night drone shoot or anytime a pilot would request to bypass rules contrary to part 107.


There are many rules and regulations when including drone operations in your videos. While it may seem daunting, each Remote Pilot in Charge (PIC) should get familiar with these topics.

Positioning yourself as a safe drone pilot will put your clients at ease and ensure that things are safe for everyone involved. Keep up with the regulations as they quickly adapt to the new drone technology. 

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