FAA Part 107
Part 107 is the technical name for the FAA’s commercial drone rules, which is the set of rules that applies to 99.9% of drone surveying operations. In order to comply with the law in the United States, then you must follow FAA Part 107. Broadly speaking, there are three major categories to the rules that you must comply to.
The FAA published their own brief, but somewhat technical summary of the Part 107 rule. However, many of these do not practically apply to drone surveying operations. Below are some of the most critical parts of FAA Part 107 when operating drones fur survey purposes.
The aircraft must remain within visual line-of-sight (VLOS) of the pilot
The aircraft may not operate over persons not participating in the operation
Maximum altitude of 400 feet above ground level (AGL)
Operations near busy airports require air traffic control authorization
To operate under Part 107, we recommend training for and getting your own Part 107 license.
Part 107 applies to almost every drone surveying operation in the United States. This is true whether the operator is an individual, a corporation, or a government entity. It is also true no matter where the aircraft is being flown. However, there are a few extremely rare exemptions to Part 107, addressed below.
Recreational Flights - Flying for fun, or for recreational purposes, falls under a different set of rules than Part 107. However, if you are doing survey work, then you definitely fall under Part 107. Many have tried to use this exemption for surveying before, and it honestly just doesn’t fit. If you do want to fly a drone just for fun though, you can visit the FAA’s Recreational Fliers rules page.
333 Exemption - Before there was Part 107, there was something known as a "333 Exemption” that you needed to fly legally. It was an extremely burdensome process that required a full pilot’s license, and an enormous amount of paperwork, and has been superseded by Part 107. If you already have a 333 exemption, you can technically operate under that, though flying under Part 107 would still be simpler. There is no reason to pursue a new 333 exemption.
COA - A Certificate of Waiver or Authorization, more commonly known as a COA, is an alternative process for allowing drone flights in the United States. Prior to Part 107, public agencies had to go through the COA process to fly a drone, however they are now legally allowed to operate under Part 107. Filing for and operating under a COA is a very lengthy and paperwork intensive process, that only makes sense for extremely unusual operations. For example, flying a military drone for 500 miles at 20,000’ altitude would require a COA. For drone survey operations, there are few reasons you would ever need to apply for a COA.