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Flying your drone in or over National Parks in the United States

Flying your drone in or over National Parks in the United States

As we are heading into the summer and people might start traveling to the National Parks, it seems like a good idea to brush up on the rules of flying your drone in or over National Parks. The assumption that you’re in the clear if you take off, operate and land your drone outside of the park is not entirely accurate. Keep reading if you want to learn more.

 Flying your drone in or over National Parks

Most drone pilots will know that you are not allowed to take off or land your drone from inside a National Park.

Policy Memorandum 14-05, released by the National Park Service (NPS) director in June 2014, directed each superintendent to use the authority under 36 CFR 1.5 to prohibit the launching, landing, or operation of unmanned aircraft, subject to the certain conditions and exceptions set forth in the memo. This is still in force with a very few exceptions.

However, the assumption of many drone pilots was that since the National Park Service does not control the airspace over a National Park (the FAA does), you would be able to legally take off from outside a National Park, fly your drone over the National Park grounds and land your unmanned aircraft outside the park again. Well, it turns out that you might still be in violation if you were to do so.

On the official National Park Services website you can find the following information:

If I am flying my unmanned aircraft in the national airspace and do not take off, land, or operate from NPS lands and waters, is there anything the park could do to stop me?

Unless an unmanned aircraft pilot obtains special permission through the FAA, use of unmanned aircraft must remain line of sight. In addition, although they do not directly address unmanned aircraft, the following existing 36 CFR sections may apply under certain circumstances.

  • If the unmanned aircraft pursuits or harasses wildlife or creates an intentional disturbance of wildlife nesting, breeding, or other activities, the user could be cited for a violation of 36 C.F.R. § 2.2.
  • If the user of the unmanned aircraft knowingly or recklessly creates a risk of public alarm or nuisance by causing noise that was unreasonable under the circumstances or by creating a hazardous or physically offensive condition, the user could be cited for disorderly conduct under 36 C.F.R. § 2.34.
  • 36 C.F.R. § 2.12(a)(3) prohibits, in non-developed areas, operating a device powered by a portable motor or engine, except pursuant to the terms and conditions of a permit.

So, under these rules, you may still be conducting an illegal drone flight even if you were to take off, operate and land your unmanned aircraft from outside of the National Park. Also, keep in mind other restrictions, such as keeping your drone within visual-line-of-sight and below 400 feet AGL, are in effect.

In this video below you can hear from Kruser and how he was fined $180 a year-and-a-half after the illegal drone flight took place.

Flying drones as a career?

If you want to turn your hobby into your career, practice how to fly your drone safely, and learn what it takes to get your Part 107, be sure to check out the excellent training modules from The Drone U.

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Photo credit: National Park Service

Haye Kesteloo

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