Part 107 Operational Restrictions

Below is a discussion of some of the operational restrictions that are most relevant to drone surveying. This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide of all of part 107. Pilots should be licensed under Part 107 before performing any missions.

Fly within Visual Line-of-Sight (VLOS)

§107.31 Visual line of sight aircraft operation

Section 31 requires the pilot to operate within visual line of sight of the aircraft, unaided by any device other than corrective lenses. In practice, this means that most drones can only be flown within about 1,500 feet of the operator before it becomes nearly impossible to see, though this distance is not specifically listed in the rules. Using this 1,500’ radius, this means that a pilot can cover an area of approximately 160 acres from a single takeoff location.

Under good lighting conditions and with good eyesight, you can safely see beyond this 1,500’ distance, however the real impact of this rule is that you cannot legally fly very long linear missions legally.

No operations near airports without permission

§107.41 Operation in certain airspace

Section 41 says that a pilot cannot fly in class B, C, D, or E airspace without air traffic control permission. These airspace classes cover most large airports in the United States. Thankfully, you can also easily get authorization to fly in most of this airspace automatically.

Operations over People

“No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft over a human being unless that human being is directly participating in the operation of the small unmanned aircraft; or located under a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle that can provide reasonable protection from a falling small unmanned aircraft. ”
— §107.41 Operation in certain airspace

This rule has been the subject of a significant amount of debate within the drone community, without perfect clarity. Many people interpret the phrase “directly participating in the operation” very broadly, and to include other workers on a site that may not be working on the drone itself, but on the same construction project. Also, the phrase “over a human being” is open to interpretation as well. Does that mean the very narrow column of air directly over that person? If you fly 2 feet to the side of that person, are you still in compliance with the law?

There are unlikely to be perfect answers to these questions anytime soon, however there are some clear things that definitely violate the rules. Flying over a major active freeway, for example, is definitely not allowed, but a rural highway with few intermittent cars is probably OK. Flying over a crowded concert venue is definitely not allowed, but flying in a sparsely populated park for surveying purposes is probably OK.

Aerotas recommendation is to always use your own personal judgement and fly responsibly and safely no matter what. Being a responsible and safe operator is the surest way to avoid any legal trouble.

Yield to ALL other aircraft / see-and-avoid

§107.37 Operation near aircraft; right-of-way rules

Drone aircraft have the lowest priority of any aircraft in the national airspace, and must yield to all other air traffic. Even in the case of multiple drones, both pilots are supposed to yield to the other until their navigation can be safely managed.

What this means is that you can’t interfere with other aircraft, however flying in their proximity is allowed so long as you see and avoid any other air traffic.

Maximum altitude of 400 feet Above Ground

§107.51 Operating limitations for small unmanned aircraft

Drones may be flown up to a maximum of 400’ above ground, or within 400’ of a structure or hill’s uppermost limit. This is typically sufficient for most surveying operations, and certainly sufficient for safe operation above any potential obstructions.

No operations from a moving vehicle

§107.25 Operation from a moving vehicle or aircraft

Operation from a moving vehicle is not allowed unless the aircraft is over a sparsely populated area. Aerotas has tested this rule and found it is extraordinarily difficult to safely operate an aircraft from a moving vehicle without a very significant amount of operational planning, that currently makes such missions impractical. Because of this, we generally discourage operations from a moving vehicle. Aerotas will continue to test workflows for operations from a moving vehicle.