Update on Arizona Drone Laws

Farming by Mauricio Lima from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Farming by Mauricio Lima from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

UPDATE: Americans don’t have to register their drones if they’re only used for non-commercial purposes (May 19, 2017). Ignore anything below that says you have to register your drone if you only use it for fun.

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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Comments

  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.
        Thanks
        Mitch

  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
    Mitch

    • 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.

  6. Vivian MacKinnon says:

    So what about the drone owners that are hovering over the neighbors. Are there any laws protecting us from voyeurism from above? I ask because this is becoming an issue where I live.

    • Ruth Carter says:

      Here’s my 2 cents about how I might address the situation: I would probably start by talking to the drone owner about their hobby and gauge their response. (One of my neighbors has drones and it doesn’t bother me when I see them because I know he just likes flying them. He’s probably not using them to be a Peeping Tom.) I’d double check the federal and the state, city, and/or HOA rules about people using drones in residential areas. The drone operator may not know the rules – even though they should. If they don’t seem to respect my concerns about voyeurism/spying, then I’d report the person to the proper authorities.

      • Vivian MacKinnon says:

        Problem is I don’t know who owns it. I even went on the roof to see if I could tell which yard it landed in and it was on a different block. But thanks, I’d already thought of that too. It is a subject that will have to be dealt with as Americans value their freedom both to ise their toys and to be free of trespass on their property.

        • Ruth Carter says:

          That’s challenging. The FAA rules require that the drone operator be in visual range of their device. You may have to report the person to law enforcement to see if they can investigate the situation.

        • Timothy Walker says:

          As long as they are not flying 25ft within anything valuable/person or watching you in the backyard you cant do anything check out rules for rec. use of uav most my neighbors dont mind anymore since they know i fly more for stunts/racing and not just to see from a birds eye view. Now noise is another issue in its self. Oh and when you do find out who it is my suggestion being a uav pilot asking them what there doing it for be nice about it, everyone thats been conserned about it has been really cool except one neighbor trying to control what I do in his case he wasnt nice at all to say the least well now I fly even more around my house just because he wasnt nice about it and trust me if your worried about crashing my drone cost 500 dollars not that cheap and It cost alot to fix after so us pilots hate crashing so we dont take risk to cause are model to crash fyi. Just thought i would share from a pilots point of view.

          • Ruth Carter says:

            I agree, the default assumption shouldn’t be that the UAV operator has nefarious intentions. I’ve never had a bad experience talking to a UAV operator about their experience flying drones.

  7. Vivian MacKinnon says:

    I hear what you are saying. If it happens again I will report it to law enforcement as the operator obviously didn’t have a clear line of sight. It did feel like sying since it stopped directly above me, hovered, and then came closer. As I walked closer it abruptly raised and headed down the block hovering over each backyard for a bit then moving on.

    As to the guy that now flies his drown even more to get back at a neighbor for “not being nice”, way to escalate the conflict that’s super helpful and bound to convince that neighbor he was completely wrong about you… Escalation of issues rarely results in a peaceful resolution.

    • Lawrence says:

      Unless you know exactly where the drone pilot was standing, you can’t possibly judge whether he had a clear line of sight or not. I know that from my backyard, which is in a densely populated city, I can fly several blocks and still have line of sight.

      The person who is flying more because of his neighbor, whatever his reason is for flying, as long as its legal, he’s just asserting his right to fly.

      It’s time for people to become educated about drones because like it or not, they’re here to stay.

      • Ruth Carter says:

        I agree. There needs to be education on both sides – both regarding the operation of drones and that they are usually innocuous. Most drone operators I know just like flying them, not spying on their neighbors.

  8. A neighbor I’ve never had an issue with is upset about me “peeping in his backyard”. In fact I was flying over my roof looking at the condition. My aircraft “yes the FAA considers it an aircraft” never passed the edge of my roof. I even reviewed the footage with him, the only time you could even see his yard was when I turned the drone to head back to the front of my roof. Less than a quarter of a second I would guess.

    He told me he could shoot the drone down. I calmly explained that after the shotspotters in Glendale found where the violation of Shannons law occurred he might regret such rash actions.

    Seriously folks, most of us could care less about peeking in your backyards. You’re not super models, and I’m not a pervert. Frankly I’m offended by your baseless accusations and amazed at your baseless fears. I make a living now flying drones, I enjoy taking great shots of Arizona sunsets. Seeing my aging overweight neighbors in their yard is as low on my list as seeing my old fat behind likely is on theirs.

    Stop the hysteria. Drones are fun, as a licensed UAV pilot I have a lot of rules I have to follow. There is no law keeping my from flying over your house, but as an earlier poster said, there is a good neighbor ethic, and I follow it, most of us do, the sunsets, waterfalls from angles never before possible, and the other beauties of Arizona are of much more interest to me than your backyard.

    • Ruth Carter says:

      I’m with you. If you have concerns about your neighbor’s drone, start by talking to your neighbor. Unless they’re hovering over the middle of your backyard or chasing you around, there’s a good chance the drone operator isn’t spying of you.

  9. Brad Heath says:

    Ruth,
    My neighbor is selling his house. Our properties are separated by see through fencing. A drone was used to video his property I assume. I have not seen what the drone shot. I dont want any of my property to be a part of his sales pitch. Seems like I have the right to have my property excluded from his sales listing dont I?

    • Ruth Carter says:

      I can’t give legal advice to people who aren’t my clients. Having said that, your house is going to be part of the sales pitch because you’re part of the neighborhood. Whether it’s on the video footage, the Google map view, or visible to prospect buyers driving down the street – it’s going to seen by people looking at your neighbor’s house. I wouldn’t be surprised if realtors are posting photos or video of the house that’s up for sale, the neighborhood, the schools, and the nearby stores and parks to try to entice potential buyers. I understand why you don’t want your house to be a selling point for your neighbor, but I suspect the realtor is focusing on highlighting the house that’s for sale and the neighborhood is a bonus. If you think this guy is crossing the line, go talk to him. And if that doesn’t work, talk to a local lawyer about whether you have rights/recourse.

    • Lawrence says:

      Would you feel the same way if a ground level photographer, instead of a drone photographer, was taking pictures of the property for sale? It seems a little nit picky and perhaps vindictive to say that you don’t want any part of your property to be part of his sales pitch. Not knowing the situation between you and your neighbor, you don’t sound very neighborly. I mean come on. How will it hurt you to have a part of your house shown on your neighbors real estate photos? I would hate to have a neighbor like you.

  10. Keith Swalley says:

    Since the FAA is the sole authority and controlling agency of all airspace, I wonder from where cities, counties, states and even HOAs, as someone mentioned, assume to have the authority to make and enforce any laws regard flying. Now, breaking other existing laws is a different issue.

    • Ruth Carter says:

      Local laws can’t contradict federal laws, but they can add rules where the FAA is silent.

  11. I am trying to find out what I would need to do to get permission to fly my drone in downtown Phoenix. The area I would like to film in IS within the five mile radius of PHX Sky Harbor, but just barely. I am having a hard time finding the steps needed to do this legally….

    • Ruth Carter says:

      You may want to start by doing some research on the city and FAA rules and calling the necessary authorities to request permission. If you want a lawyer’s help, you need to be ready to pay for their time.

  12. Steve Brown says:

    I was just informed by a Park Ranger in a City of Glendale park that per City of Glendale Code 27-51 D:

    Sec. 27-51. – Prohibition of miscellaneous recreational activities.
    Except in such areas as are specifically designated for such use, no person shall engage in any of the following activities in a city park: (d) Bringing into a park, using or operating any radio-controlled model airplanes, boats, cars or similar objects.

    When I politely asked which City of Glendale park(s) was/were “Drone Friendly” per Arizona 13-3729 he referred me to several Phoenix and County parks.

    I realize the new law is “new”, (taking effect August 2016) so, somehow this doesn’t quite seem correct to me as Glendale has more than one park.

    Any comments/suggestions?

    • Ruth Carter says:

      Interesting situation, I’d probably kick the question to Glendale City Hall and see what they’re doing to comply with the new law.

      • Timothy Walker says:

        I stopped trying to flying in Glendale stick to Phoenix the parks are better. No signs saying no rc controlled models at all. Glendale sucks even if I wanted to let my son drive his RC truck from walmart it would be a no go which is stupid since its a park where else is he suppose to drive his RC truck when we go to the park when the truck is considered a toy that probably has a top speed of 15 if that. Like I said up there in the first sentence Phoenix has a lot better parks to fly with more trees. Plus most of Glendale is a no fly zone because of Glendale Stadium and Luke Air force base extends out that far.

        • Keith Swalley says:

          While I am not in Glendale, I live within 5 miles of Luke AFB. (permission is not required, notification is). I wanted to do some practice flying over a retention basin in my neighborhood. I previously called the airfield operations, asked them how to handle the notifications, they told me to call the tower directly and gave me the number. The morning I wanted to fly, I called the tower, said I would be flying, told them where, maximum altitude, and when I would be finished. They took the information, no problem.

  13. George Acuna says:

    I will be using my drone to inspect residential roofs which is below 50 ft can this be considered recreational

    • Ruth Carter says:

      It sounds like the question is are you inspecting the roof as part of your job? If so, it’s likely a commercial use. If you’re doing it to inspect your own roof or someone else’s as a favor to them, that would likely be non-commercial use. The height at which you fly doesn’t likely the change the commercial nature of the use.

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