When I first got my drone I was overwhelmed by the number of drone laws. There were so many so I wanted to find out just how serious a fine could be if I made a mistake. So can you get fined for flying a drone?
If you fly your drone recklessly, above 400 feet, in a no-fly zone or break any other FAA drone laws as a recreational drone pilot, you could get fined up to $27,000. And if you try to use your drone for criminal activities, such as deliver drugs, that fine can be as high as $250,000.
But the actual amount will vary a lot depending on which drone law you broke, your history and to what severity you broke it.
How much can you get fined?
So you’re probably wondering how much exactly can you get fined. Since there is no set amount on the different fine amounts for different cases for breaking the rule, I’ll be using real-life cases as the amount you could expect.
Here’s a list of different scenarios with amounts that you can get fined.
Flying over a crowd of people or an event.
Here I came across three different cases. The cases were very similar, they all flew over a stadium during a football game. Each person was initially fined $1,100. But the actual settlement averages out to about $700.
I came across a case where a hotel was damaged. The person responsible was fined $1000.
Flying in a housing complex.
In this case, the person responsible had two warnings before they were fined $1,100.
Flying a drone in a no-fly zone
- A drone was flown close to a popular bridge. The personal was fined initially $1,100, however, the fine was later dropped.
- Another no-fly zone case. The initial fine was $3,300. However, they later settled at $1,100.
Flying close to government buildings
- A case where someone flew too close to the Whitehouse. They were fined $4,400.
- A drone operator also crashed his drone in a tree at the Whitehouse. This mistake cost them $5,500.
- Crashing into a government building. This person was fined $1,100.
Flying too close to an airport without notifying ATC.
In this incident, the pilot of the drone paid the full $1,100 fine.
Flying too close to another aircraft.
In this incident, a drone operator flew his drone within 50 feet of an NYPD helicopter. He was fined $2,200. However, they settled for $1,555.
Landing too close to a person
- The initial fine was $2,200, however, it was settled at $400.
- Flying drones over a large number of people. Initial fine was $2,200, settled for $1,320.
Flying without a license
There was a case where a student got fined $18,700 initially. However, they later settled for $5000.
As you can see the fines vary a lot. So it’s impossible to give you a set amount for what you can expect if you break a drone law. But I hope that it gives you an idea of what you can expect.
So what can you do to avoid these fines?
8 Scenarios That Would Give You A Fine
If you’re trying to avoid a drone fine then there are some simple scenarios you should avoid. If you just avoid these things, you’ll drastically reduce your chances of getting a fine. A lot of them may seem like common sense, however, you’ll be surprised by how many people end up in trouble.
Here’s a list of scenarios that will get you in trouble with the authorities. Make sure you DON’T do any of the following:
- Stalking Celebrities or Government officials. Goes without saying. If you’re stalking ANYONE chances are your intention with a drone is unlawful.
- Flying a drone over 400 feet. According to FAA regulations, you’re not allowed to fly your drone higher than 400 feet.
- Using the drone for illegal activities. If you use your drone for criminal activities, expect a HUGE fine of around $200,000 or some jail time.
- Flying within a 5-mile radius of an airport. This is another strict law given by the FAA, and it includes airports of all sizes. Not just international airports. Or else, get a $1,100 fine. If you are within a 5-mile radius you can get permission by phoning the air traffic control.
- Taking off or landing drone in National Parks. This is a bit of a tricky one. Some information will tell you that you’re allowed to fly over National Parks, but just not land or take-off with your drone. Other articles will tell you to stay away from National Parks all-together. I like to be extra cautious, so I avoid them at all costs.
- Interfering with emergency events such as firefighters, ambulance or police. This isn’t just a law, it’s also respectful. Emergency situations are extremely sensitive, so step back and allow them to do their jobs.
- Not registering your drone. The online application only costs $5 dollars and it’s quick and easy. You have no excuses here.
- Using your drone to make money. This is where a lot of people have ended up in trouble. If you’re flying a drone as a hobby, you’re not allowed to make money with your drone. That includes selling pictures of video footage that you used your drone to capture. According to the FAA, you have to have a commercial pilot license to legally monetize your drone.
What You Need To Do To Fly A Drone Legally
Now that you know which scenarios to stay away from, you also need to know a few simple laws that will help you stay legal.
Here’s what you need to know to fly your drone without getting a fine:
- Line of sight rule. Think of it this way, if something is blocking your vision between yourself and your drone, you would be out of “line of sight.”
- Don’t try to follow or mess with other aircraft. This one is a big no. This could cause air collisions which could cost peoples lives.
- If you are within 5 miles of an airport, make sure you contact them.
- Don’t spy on anyone. This includes people as far as the president, to your ex-girlfriend who lived down the block.
- Make sure you check your city, county and state drone laws. Yes, I know, it seems endless. However, it’s always worth checking. After you’ve flown in the same area for a while you’ll get used to the drone laws, so put in the work now so that you can relax later. Google your city’s name and “drone.” Their laws should pop right up.
- Don’t fly close to any government buildings. It’s illegal and it causes a big scene. Just don’t do it.
- Don’t fly close to sensitive buildings like power stations etc. Imagine crashing into a power station and destroying the whole place? You don’t want to be that person.
- Don’t drink and fly! This includes drugs. In the eyes of the law, drones are manned aircraft, so make sure you act responsibly.
- If the weather can affect your line of sight or makes it difficult to control your drone. Then don’t fly. Bad weather increases the chance of causing damage to a person or property. You could get fine for flying recklessly.
- Don’t fly over cars and other people on purpose. The keyword here is “on purpose. It’s obviously going to happen by a mistake some time or another, however, avoid it at all costs. And authorities are not stupid, also don’t use the ignorance card. They will know if you did it by mistake or not.
Real-life Cases Where People Have Been Fined
Personal drone use fines
- A case where Xizmo was hired by a University to get some video footage was fined $5000 for flying a drone that was not registered.
- Note to self, don’t crash my drone in a tree at the WhiteHouse. That’s what happening to Usman on the 26th of January 2015. The result? A $5,500 fine.
- Would you try to get some good footage of an NYPD police helicopter with your drone? I thought not. Well, unfortunately, Rosa didn’t seem to think there’s anything wrong with it. Maybe he changed his mind after a $1,555 fine.
Commercial drone fines
- The biggest fine that was ever handed out was to an aerial photography company in 2012. Skypan International got served a whopping $1.9 million fine for allegedly flying in crowded airspace 65 times. OUCH!
- Flying over a hot dog eating contest can also get you in trouble. Quinones got hired on the 4th of July to do just that, and he ended up losing his license for 90 days.
Can you get arrested for flying a drone?
You can get arrested for flying a drone. However, you wouldn’t get arrested for making a mistake or being a little bit negligent.
However, if you’ve been warned numerous times, and you caused serious damage to property or a person, you could get sent to jail.
And, if you’re using your drone to commit a crime then you can obviously also be sent to jail.