The New Drone Rules You Should Know About

An aerial shot can vary your perspectives and provide context for your story. License this clip from Capture here.

An aerial shot can vary your perspectives and provide context for your story. License this clip from Capture here.

Drones are useful tools for filmmakers; there’s no doubt about it. With a drone in the sky and a controller in hand, you can capture breathtaking aerials, give your film context by showing more of a location, change up perspectives and camera height to diversify your shots, and create a sense of movement and action.

You can get drones at a range of price points and qualities (including ones with raw 4k video); And don’t be intimidated by flying a drone with a camera—check out these tips and techniques to get started with drone filmmaking from Matt Brue of Capture Film Co.

Having said all of that, there are a few rules and regulations that you should know about once your drone arrives at your doorstep. Here's an up-to-date breakdown:


The F.A.A., the Federal Aviation Administration, creates the guidelines for registering and operating drones, which they call unmanned small aircraft, or UAS.

They recently released a new set of rules called Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule, or Part 107, making it easier to fly commercial aircrafts—for filmmakers, and everyone else. But it wasn’t always so.

The New York Times reports that previously, F.A.A. regulations required companies seeking to operate drones to register for special permission. “The government has issued more than 6,000 approvals and about 7,000 companies are on a waiting list for approval,” the article says. “When the new rules go into effect in 60 days, companies will no longer have to gain that special exemption.”

What are some highlights of these impending rules, a.k.a. Part 107?

All UAS must be under 55 lbs.; your drone must stay in your line of sight; you can only operate it in daylight; you need to stay out of the way of other aircraft. There are flying height restrictions (400 feet above ground level) and ground speed limits (100 mph). As a drone operator, you need to be at least 16 years old, have a remote pilot airman certificate, and be vetted by the TSA. For the complete list of rules, read the bulletin from the F.A.A.

Why should you care about these new rules?

If you’re a filmmaker, you count as a commercial drone user—not a hobbyist, according to a representative from the F.A.A. Filmmakers used to have to apply to operate drones under the Section 333 Exemption...set in motion by the Motion Filmmakers Association of America on behalf of its members back in 2014.

A drone shot captures the spirit of the open road. License this clip from Capture here. 

A drone shot captures the spirit of the open road. License this clip from Capture here. 

What was the Section 333 Exemption, you may ask?

The F.A.A. representative we spoke to explained that companies used to have to outline their exact intentions about where and how they planned to film, and any safety concerns. After reviewing their petition, the F.A.A. would grant them permission to operate drones on a case-by-case basis—under certain conditions.

So what happens in August when Part 107 goes into effect?

If you currently have a Section 333 exemption, here’s the deal: when the Part 107 rule becomes effective in August you can either keep operating under the 333 Exemption terms until your exemption expires; or, you can switch to operating under the Part 107 rules (which will mean getting that certificate, and more). Here are the specifications on how to become a pilot.

An aerial shot over the waves. License this clip from Matchstix Studios here. 

An aerial shot over the waves. License this clip from Matchstix Studios here

What if you don’t abide by the F.A.A.’s rules?

Even though drone regulation continues to evolve and may seem tenuous, the F.A.A. promises to make good on some hefty fines if you fail to register your UAS. We quote, from their site:

“Failure to register an unmanned aircraft may result in regulatory and criminal penalties. The FAA may assess civil penalties up to $27,500. Criminal penalties include fines of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.”

The F.A.A., perhaps recognizing that this punishment is just a tad harsh, does follow up by saying that “There is no one-size-fits-all enforcement action for violations...In general, the FAA will attempt to educate operators who fail to comply with registration requirements. However, fines will remain an option when egregious circumstances are present.”

The conclusion on the new drone rules:

In short: you can weigh your options and hope that the F.A.A. will smile benevolently upon you if you’re caught breaking the rules, but it’s probably a good idea to play it safe if you don’t want to be out 27K. The F.A.A. has information on registering your UAS here; it costs $5 per drone.

Here are some additional resources:

  • Read the actual updated rules from the F.A.A. here.
  • Read the F.A.A.’s press release on Part 107 here.
  • A helpful guide on flying drones and the history of drone regulations from our friends at B & H Photo.
  • Here’s how to become a pilot.
  • FAQ’s on registering and operating your drone, including the outlines for what happens if you don’t register, are here.  

What do you think about the new regulations? Chime in with your opinion below!