Drone Safety Guidelines
Follow laws and best practices to steer clear of turbulence
Flying drones can be a fun and useful activity. These remote-controlled aircraft can zip from place to place and hover hundreds of feet above the ground. And, when equipped with video cameras, drones can provide sweeping, bird’s-eye footage of a church building or a ministry activity.
Drones also come with risks. There have been many cases of drones interfering with larger aircraft. Single-drone crashes can cause property damage and injuries, despite the aircraft generally being lightweight.
There are several steps church leaders can take to minimize liability when using drones:
- Only allow trained operators to use drones on church property. Trained, experienced “pilots” tend to know the capabilities and limitations of their aircraft. They also should follow drone safety procedures. These precautions can help prevent accidents.
- Establish no-fly zones. A drone falling on people or property could cause injuries and property damage. Avoid flying too close to people, buildings, cars, overhead power lines, and other utility wires. Keep ministry-approved flights on church property.
- Follow all applicable laws. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules prohibit drone flights near airports and require most drones to be registered before being flown outdoors. Drones are subject to additional regulations when used for commercial purposes, such as videography. State laws may apply to drone use, as well. Violating these regulations can result in heavy fines and other penalties. Consult with a locally licensed attorney and make sure all drone flights on your property follow all applicable laws.
- Address privacy concerns. If using a drone for video purposes, be mindful of the privacy issues that come along with photo and video use. Avoid using video that identifies individuals, unless the individual gives written permission to do so.
- Register your drone. Drones can be registered for either commercial or recreational use. Put simply, if you're flying a drone for commercial, governmental, or non-hobby purposes (including ministries and non-profits) you must register your drone for commercial use. If you will be operating your drone for the sole purpose of personal interest or enjoyment, you can register your drone for recreational use.
- Determine who can fly. Once you've established how your drone will be used (either for recreational or commercial use) you can then determine who is permitted to fly. Those who pilot drones for recreational use may do so without certification under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (Public Law 112-95 Section 336) according to the FAA. Under this rule, operators must:
- Register their UAS with the FAA
- Fly for hobby or recreational purposes only
- Follow a community-based set of safety guidelines
- Fly the UAS within visual line-of-sight
- Give way to manned aircraft
- Provide prior notification to the airport and air traffic control tower, if one is present, when flying within 5 miles of an airport
- Fly UAS that weigh no more than 55 lbs. unless certified by a community-based organization
Schools that desire to use drones for classroom exercises may allow students to operate drones under FAA recreational classification, as long as the school is an accredited institution and the operation is part of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), television and film production or the arts coursework, as specified by this FAA memorandum.
Safety procedures and regulations are frequently changing as drones continue to surge in popularity. If your ministry uses these aircraft, or allows others to fly on church property, encourage safety by following best practices and applicable laws.