As drones become more common in American households and businesses, the N.C. Department of Transportation is working to help promote safety on the air and on the ground by educating drone operators in the state.
Drones, also called Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), offer a wide variety of uses – from tech-loving hobbyists to professional photographers, university researchers, agricultural operations and government organizations.
Both the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the NCDOT Division of Aviation classify UAS flight operations by three categories:
Recreational — Any UAS flight that is conducted solely for recreation.
Government – Any UAS flight conducted by a government entity to support their work.
Commercial – Any UAS flight that serves a business purpose or provides a business benefit, even if that benefit is indirect.
At the direction of the North Carolina General Assembly, NCDOT launched a permitting system for commercial and government UAS operators in North Carolina. The system is designed to help UAS owners better understand restrictions on the use of their technology through a simple and efficient online process.
Starting this month, all government and commercial UAS operators must obtain a permit from NCDOT’s Division of Aviation.
“This permitting process will help educate UAS owners,” said N.C. Transportation Secretary Nick Tennyson. “We want to encourage safe and responsible drone operations in North Carolina.”
To obtain a permit, users must first pass the North Carolina UAS Operators Knowledge Test. A guide is available to help users study before taking the test.
In addition to passing the knowledge test, users must meet certain FAA requirements to obtain a commercial or government operator permit in North Carolina. The full requirements are available on the Division of Aviation website (ncdot.gov/aviation).
Operators who meet all requirements will receive a paper permit, similar to a driver license, that they will be required to keep with them while conducting commercial or government UAS operations.
Recreational users are not required to complete the permit process, but are strongly encouraged to review the study guide and take the knowledge test to better understand UAS regulations in North Carolina.
UAS operators — whether recreational, government or commercial — should keep in mind that North Carolina has laws governing drone use. Drone users are subject to all North Carolina laws, even if UAS technology is not mentioned in the specific statute.
For UAS operators on Hatteras and Ocracoke, it is important to recognize that drone use is prohibited in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and all National Park Service properties.
UAS owners must also register drones weighing between 0.55 lbs. and 55 lbs. with the FAA. More information about registration is available on the FAA’s UAS website (faa.gov/uas/registration).
Current and potential drone owners can find more information about state and federal UAS regulations on the Division of Aviation’s website.