Update on Arizona Drone Laws

Farming by Mauricio Lima from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Farming by Mauricio Lima from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Earlier this year, Arizona passed a new law regarding unmanned aircraft systems (UASs), aka drones. The purpose of this law is to prevent cities from making separate regulations. This law makes it a misdemeanor to use a drone in a way that interferes with law enforcement or fire operations. It’s a felony to use a drone to “intentionally photograph or loiter over or near a critical facility in the furtherance of any criminal offense.”

I have heard reports of drones interfering with aerial firefighting operations, causing planes to be grounded, but I have yet to hear of anyone be cited or arrested for violating this law.

On the flip side, the law is helpful to hobbyists by requiring cities with more than one park to allow drones in at least one of them. Beyond that, the law requires drone operators to comply with the Federal Aviation Administration(FAA) rules of UASs.

Rules for Flying a Drone for Fun
The FAAs rules for flying a drone as a hobbyist are pretty simple and straightforward:

  • All drones over 0.55 lbs must be registered. Your drone and its cargo total weight must be under 55 lbs.
  • You must always fly your drone in your unassisted visual line-of-sight (exception for prescription eyeglasses or contacts).
  • You must fly your drone at an altitude that is less than 400 feet.
  • Always yield the right of way to manned aircraft.
  • You can’t fly a drone within 5 miles of an airport without prior notification.

I imagine some drone enthusiasts or clubs have mapped where the 5-mile radius around each Phoenix-area airport ends. Hopefully, wherever you live in Arizona, there’s a place near your home where you can fly your drone. My dog was intrigued and a little frightened when we encountered a drone-flyer at a park.

Rules for Flying a Drone for Business Purposes
The FAA’s rules for using a drone for commercial purposes are much more complicated. Here are some of the requirements that apply in addition to the rules above:

  • Operators must be at least 16 years old and have a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate
  • Drone operators cannot operate more than one drone simultaneously.
  • The maximum permissible groundspeed is 100 mph.
  • You must fly your drone during the day.
  • No flying drones over people (exception for those involved in the drone operation).
  • No flying drones from a moving vehicle except in sparsely populated areas.
  • No carrying hazardous materials with your drone.

You can read the full summary of the FAA’s rules for commercial drone operations, including record and reporting requirements, on the FAA website. If your project requires violating these rules, you can apply for a certificate of waiver if you can demonstrate that your project can be executed safely.

More Information
If you have additional questions or want to stay up-to-date on the legalities of flying drones, check out the FAA’s UASs site or Know Before You Fly. You can also seek out a local lawyer who understands the federal and local drone rules that apply to you. If you want to connect with me, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

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  1. There are more and more drone racing clubs forming as the number of laws and restrictions grow in almost every state, not just Arizona. Look for the regulations to grow as people violate their neighbor’s air space and the properties around designated park spaces.

    • Ruth Carter says:

      I wonder if new laws are necessary or just enforcement of the laws on the books, plus application of the good-neighbor rule.

  2. Morba Scorham says:

    Hello, I have been using my drone to watch my neighbors do things. Is that illegal? I sometimes hover my drone outside my neighbor’s bedroom window. Is there any law that precludes this? Thank you for your time.

    • Ruth Carter says:

      Just speaking as a human, there’s about 12 things wrong with your comment. Spying on your neighbors with your drone is creepy at best and possibly illegal depending on the laws of your city/state. Even if it’s something you can legally do where you live, you should stop.

  3. Tim Walker says:

    so if a park sign says no use of radio controlled models cant fly right ?

    • Ruth Carter says:

      I would assume this would apply to all radio-controlled vehicles – on land, water, and in the sky. If you need more clarification, contact the city or entity that maintains the park.

  4. Mitch Hald says:

    Cities having more than 1 park are required to allow UAV’s in at least one. Was there the same requirement that the state allow UAV’s in at least one state park? How about county parks? State forests? Nature preserves? Some of us are more interested photographing nature than fpv racing.

    • Ruth Carter says:

      You’ll have to check the rules for the park where you want to fly your UAV.

      • Mitchell Hald says:

        Thank you for the reply. Rather than asking about any park in particular I was asking more about the Arizona law itself. Does this law mandate counties and the state to do the same? This would be handy to know before calling county or state offices asking which parks allow drones.

  5. Mitchell Hald says:

    Hello again,

    Do you know of any changes to the above mentioned law concerning “Drones” in Arizona? Can I contact the state house with this question? If so what dept.?

    Specifically, “On the flip side, the law is helpful to hobbyists by requiring cities with more than one park to allow drones in at least one of them.” Of course I am asking because I was told by a city here in Arizona that “Drones” are not allowed in any of their parks.
    Really enjoy you posts and blog.

    Thanks again

    • Ruth Carter says:

      I have a Google Alert for “drones” and “Arizona.” I have not seen any news stories about changes in the laws regarding drones. You can always check the Arizona legislature’s website to review the proposed bills to see if any of them are about drones/UAS and you can watch the FAA website for information about changes in federal laws.

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