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Know Before You Fly: 3 Things You Need to Know Before You Fly Your Drone

One of the most popular new “toys” in the last few years are drones. What’s not to love?! You can pretend to be a pilot while staying on the ground, take pictures with views you would never otherwise get to experience, and feel cool while doing it.  That’s all true, but there are also laws you must be aware of.  Here are a few things to know before you fly:

1. You Need to Register Your Drone with the FAA

Under Federal law, if your drone weighs more than .55 pounds up to 55 pounds, you need to register it with the FAA.  It’s a relatively simple process, but it has to be done. Further, when flying your drone, you need to carry proof of registration with you. If someone else is flying your drone, you need to provide them with a copy of the registration, either by paper copy or by email.

What can the government really do if I don’t register my drone? While the FAA has stated that it “will attempt to educate operators who fail to comply with registration requirements,” penalties are in place for those whose conduct is egregious or aggravated by bad behavior. Civil fines are potentially as high as $27,500. Criminal penalties are even worse—up to a $250,000 fine and up to three years imprisonment.

2. Don’t fly over schools, jails, etc. 

In 2016, the Louisiana state legislature passed legislation creating “no-fly zones” for drones. Unless you have prior written consent of the property owner, you cannot use a drone to “conduct surveillance of, gather evidence of or collect information about, or photographically or electronically record schools or school premises. Violation of this section of the law is a misdemeanor on a first conviction, punishable by up to $500 and imprisonment up to six months.  A second conviction is worse—a felony punishable by a minimum fine of $500 up to a maximum fine of $2000 and imprisonment for a minimum of 6 months and up to a year, with or without hard labor.

Another subsection of the same law prohibits flying your drone over a jail, prison, or correctional facility (again without written consent of the person in charge of that facility).  The punishment for this section is somewhat more costly: a first conviction on this subsection is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $2,000 fine and up to six months imprisonment. A second conviction is a felony punishable by a minimum fine of $2,000 and up to a maximum find of $5,000 and imprisonment, with or without hard labor for up to one year.

3. You CAN trespass with your drone—DON’T!

The Louisiana legislature has also clarified trespass law to include operating your drone in the air space over immovable property owned by another with the intent to conduct surveillance of the property. So, unless you have consent to have your drone in the airspace over someone else’s property—don’t go there.

Essentially, those acts that were previously illegal are still illegal, and the legislature has enacted specific language to include those acts involving your drone.  Examples include video voyeurism (i.e. “peeping tom”) laws which specify that if you use your drone to film or photograph someone for a lewd or lascivious purpose, it is still video voyeurism, and obstruction of an officer. (Louisiana law now specifies that when an area is cordoned off for police investigations, that area includes the airspace above it and flying your drone across that cordon is a criminal offense, and police and/or fire department personnel are authorized to disable your drone.)

Enjoy your drone, but make sure you do so in compliance with both Louisiana and federal law.  If you or someone you know has been arrested for a drone-related crime, give Gilmer & Giglio a call to set up your consult at (318) 459-9111.

Happy National Aviation Day - August 19th!