Can I fly a drone in a public park?
The answer is that well, it depends.
If you’re just flying for fun, you should be able to just do some airspace research and, if you learn that your local park is in Class G airspace, fly there without taking any further steps.
However, many cities, counties, and states have enacted their own drone laws, which can make it hard to find out where exactly you can and can’t fly.
The FAA is supposed to be the only governmental body that can regulate the national airspace, which means that cities should not be able to create laws about what can happen in the airspace over them. But some cities have gotten around this restriction by passing laws prohibiting a drone from taking off or landing within city limits—that is, not legislating about the airspace, but about the land used to enter the airspace.
[Looking for a good place to fly your drone in the U.S.? Check out our list of top places to fly to find information on great flying spots near you.]
Local drone laws complicate the process of finding out where exactly you can and can’t fly, and make answering the question about whether you can fly in a particular public park more complicated.
That being said, there are still concrete steps you can take to answer the question, Can I fly a drone in a public park?
In this short guide, we’ll walk you through a step-by-step process you can follow to find out if you can fly in a specific place, such as a public park. We’ll also cover the difference between recreational and commercial flying, talk about the tension between federal and local drone laws, and wrap things up by looking at what the future might hold for drone regulations in the U.S.
Want to jump around? Here you go:
- Can I Fly a Drone in a Public Park—Recreational vs. Commercial Flying
- A Step-by-Step Guide to Find Out If You Can Fly in a Public Park
- Tensions Between Federal and Local Drone Laws
- The UAS IPP and the Future of Drone Legislation
Can I Fly a Drone in a Public Park—Recreational vs. Commercial Flying
Before we dive into the steps you can follow to see if you can fly in a specific place in the U.S., it’s important to cover the difference between flying for fun (recreational flying) and flying for work (commercial flying).
The reason this distinction is important is because it determines which rules you’ll be flying under.
For example, if you’re wondering Can I fly a drone in a public park? and what you have in mind is conducting a professional shoot for stock photography (that is, flying a drone for work) then your operations would be considered commercial, and you’d need to hold a Part 107 certificate in order to conduct that operation under the law.
Rules for Recreational Drone Pilots
Recreational drone pilots are those pilots flying for fun.
Since the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 gave the FAA the authority to impose rules on recreational drone pilots the restrictions for them have become more and more similar to the restrictions on commercial drone pilots.
Here is what the FAA currently requires for recreational drone operations:
- Register your drone. Recreational drone pilots must register their drones and label them with the registration number. Learn more on the FAA’s website.
- Airspace authorization. Recreational drone pilots must request airspace authorization before flying near an airport. Previously, hobbyist pilots could simply call the airport and the ATC to let them know they were planning to fly.
- Follow Part 107 rules. The FAA has not explicitly said that recreational pilots must follow the Part 107 rules (the rules for commercial drone pilots), but the new restrictions align with the Part 107 rules: recreational pilots must fly below 400 feet, within their visual line of sight, not over groups of people, and not in controlled airspace (without prior authorization). Learn more on the FAA’s website.
Rules for Commercial Drone Pilots
Commercial drone pilots are those pilots flying for work.
Here is what the FAA currently requires for commercial drone operations:
- Hold a Part 107 certificate. Also called a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate, this certificate is issued after a commercial drone pilot passes the FAA’s Part 107 exam.
- Follow the Part 107 rules. See the full list on the FAA’s website.
- Must meet all other requirements. This includes things like meeting minimum age requirement of 16 years and passing a background check. See the full list here.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Find Out If You Can Fly in a Public Park
Q: Can I fly a drone in a public park?
A: Maybe—read through the steps below to learn more.
Here is a step-by-step process you can follow to find out if you can fly your drone in a specific public park (or anywhere else, for that matter):
1. Check Federal Laws and Restrictions
- Go to Know Before You Fly. This is a web platform created in partnership by the AMA, AUVSI, and the FAA that lets you find out the specific federal flight restrictions in place anywhere in the U.S.
- Enter the address where you want to fly.
- Review the results. Results shown will tell you very quickly whether you can or can’t fly and will include information on the type of airspace for your proposed drone mission, as well as whether there are any Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) or Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) in place.
Here’s an example of the airspace over Public Square Park in Nashville, Tennessee, the city where UAV Coach is headquartered:
2. Check Local Laws and Restrictions
As we’ve already noted, this is trickier than checking federal restrictions. Local drone laws seem to be cropping up all the time, and it can be hard to keep track of all of them.
Here is what we recommend you do to make sure you’re in compliance with local laws:
- Start by checking our Master List of Drone Laws to see if you find any restrictions in place for your state, city, or county.
- Search on Google for “[city name] drone laws” to see if any new laws may have been created (we’re constantly updating our Drone Law pages, but sometimes a new law may get passed that hasn’t yet been added to those pages)
- Go to the official website for your city (like this site for the city of Nashville) and search ‘drone’ or ‘uav’ to see if anything comes up regarding drone laws in the city, and specifically in the place where you’d like to fly
- Visit the park’s website, and search for “Park Rules.” If you are still unsure if any local laws or park rules exist relating to drone use, you can contact the park’s office or local Department of Parks/Recreation.
3. Check for Active Wildfire Operations
This last step isn’t necessary unless you think there’s a chance that there could be an active wildfire in the area where you plan to fly.
It’s very important that you don’t fly if there is a wildfire because an unauthorized drone in the air can endanger firefighting personnel in manned aircraft and prevent them from being able to fight the fire.
Wildfires can spring up so fast that they may not make it onto Know Before You Fly quickly enough for it to be a reliable source of information. This is why, in addition to checking there, you should also look for real-time fire information, which can be found here.
Tensions Between Federal and Local Drone Laws
In the introduction to this article, we covered the ongoing tension between federal and local drone laws.
The reality is that, in addition to many cities going around the FAA’s jurisdiction over the national airspace by creating laws about where a drone can take off and land, some are also passing laws that stand in direct contradiction to federal law.
Local Laws Could Jail You for Federally Approved Flights
You heard that right.
Even though they are not technically legal, there are laws on the books in some U.S. cities that provide fines or even jail time as punishment for flying a drone in a manner that would be considered completely legal under the FAA’s rules.
A study conducted in 2017 by Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone found that 133 localities in 31 states—an area containing a total of 30 million people—had enacted local regulations related to flying drones.
Many of these local drone laws included prohibitions against flying drones over public property or private property without the owner’s consent—prohibitions that directly contradict the FAA’s rules.
In our own research, we’ve also found a tension not just between federal and local drone laws, but also between state and local drone laws.
While many state governments are passing drone laws designed to promote the growth of the drone industry, some city laws within those same states are simply banning drones altogether.
Should I Just Ignore City Drone Laws that I Know Contradict Federal Drone Laws?
In a court case brought against the city of Newton, MA in 2017 a judge struck down several city drone ordinances because they directly contradicted FAA drone regulations, as established in the Part 107 rules.
That case was a great win for drone pilots, but it was also just one case. There are still cities all over the U.S. with similar laws on the books who have not been brought to court.
So what do you do?
Although local drone laws that try to regulate what you do in the sky—whether you do something like fly over someone’s house or a public park—are not legal, they still might get you into hot water with local authorities, and lead to costly legal battles.
So for now, we recommend following all the federal and the local drone laws you can find for the place where you plan to fly.
The UAS IPP and the Future of Drone Legislation
If the last section has you feeling down about the current state of drone laws, this one should cheer you up.
The UAS Integration Pilot Program was launched in May of 2018 with the express goal of involving local authorities in drone policy-making, and ultimately finding a way for local and federal drone regulations to work side-by-side instead of in conflict.
Which is to say, something is being done about the tensions described above.
And since launching, the program has been a success.
It has led to new FAA permissions for types of drone operations previously not allowed, and it has brought local authorities at the state, city, and county levels more fully into the dialogue about how drones should be regulated.
Although we still have a long way to go before all the tensions are completely eased between federal and local authorities on the drone law front, but we are making steady progress in that direction.