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Drone Laws in North Carolina

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Flying a drone in any state can be tricky. You not only have to abide by the laws in place from the FAA, but you also have to look out for any relevant laws put forward by the state, as well.

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Flying Over North Carolina

If you’re a drone user currently living in the state of North Carolina, then you know how difficult it is to find a spot to fly in general. Unfortunately, there are almost no areas where it’s either legal or accepted to fly a drone in, other than Crystal Coast.

Thankfully, Crystal Coast is insanely beautiful, very open, and a great place to get the best shots and do some free flying. Crystal Cove has wild mustangs, the gorgeous shores of Emerald Isle, Atlantic Beach’s pier, and the downtown marinas located in Beaufort.

All in all, North Carolina can be pretty disappointing where places to fly a drone are concerned, but there are some amazing spots in Crystal Coast where you won’t be given a hard time.

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The Registering Process in North Carolina

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that all Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) owners follow strict regulations and laws. You will need to file your name, home address and your email address as a start.

From there, you will receive a Certificate of Aircraft Registration and Proof of Ownership. These will include an identification number for your aircraft. You must have this number displayed on your drone at all times. The number will be valid for up to 3 years.

All aircraft that weighs more than 0.55 pounds, or 250 grams, and less than 55 pounds, or 25 kilograms, must be registered. This also includes any added payloads, such as an onboard camera.

You must be at least 13-years-old in order to register and, effective December 21st, 2015, all newly purchased or made drones must be registered before their first flight. You are able to register through a paper-based process, but you can also do so online by clicking here.

Proximity to Airports in North Carolina

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As a general rule of thumb, and in accordance with the law from the FAA, you may not fly within a 5-mile radius of any airport. In 2012 the FAA enacted the Modernization and Reauthorization Act which requires hobbyist drone operators, meaning residential, to contact air traffic control and/or airport management if they are operating within a 5-mile radius of any local airport.

This is enacted nationwide, not only in North Carolina, under Part 101 of the Act, being Special Rule for Model Aircraft, to ensure that drone operations under unsafe conditions are disapproved before the drone can be launched.

Regardless of the local airport you will be flying near, and possibly breaching airspace, you will need to contact either the airport air traffic control tower or the airport operator.

You will need to establish an agreed-upon operating procedure with airport air traffic or the airport operator and answer a couple of questions. For example, questions relating to how long you are going to be flying for.

Unique Drone Laws in North Carolina

At this time of writing, all laws written in this section are active and in effect. Should any changes or new bills, laws, acts, etc., come into place this section will be updated accordingly.

UAS Memo from the North Carolina Department of Transportation

The following is a summary of the UAS Provisions contained in the North Carolina Statutes as enacted through Session Law 2014-100 which went into effect in 2014 and updated through the enacting of Session Law 2015-232 and Session Law 2016-90 passed by the North Carolina General Assembly and signed into law by the Governor of North Carolina in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

The following chapters of the North Carolina General Statutes were amended or modified through S.L. 2014-100, S.L. 2015-232, and/or S.L. 2016-90:

• Chapter 15A – Criminal Procedure
• §15A-300.1 Restrictions on use of UAS
• §15A-300.2 Regulation of launch and recovery sites

• Chapter 14 – Criminal Law
• §14-7.45 Crimes committed by use of UAS
• §14.280.3 Interference with manned aircraft by UAS
• §14.401.24 Unlawful possession and use of UAS (Weapon attached)
• §14.401.25 Unlawful distribution of images

• Chapter 113 – Conservation and Development
• §113-295 Unlawful harassment of persons taking wildlife resources

• Chapter 63 – Aeronautics
• §63-95 Training required for operations of UAS
• §63-96 License required for commercial operation of UAS

S.L. 2015-232 included several technical corrections to North Carolina’s UAS laws to more closely align NC regulations related UAS operations to those being used or contemplated at the Federal level by the FAA in 2015. S.L. 2016-90 included a single technical correction to the North Carolina’s UAS laws to align with the release of the Federal Aviation Administration Small UAS Rule (14 CFR Part 107) in 2016. The sections below are provided word-for-word from the ratified act and represent current NC law as related to UAS operations in NC.

NCGS Chapter 15A – Criminal Procedure

§ 15A-300.1. Restrictions on use of unmanned aircraft systems.

Definitions. – The following definitions apply to this Article:

Manned aircraft. – An aircraft, as defined in G.S. 63-1, that is operated with a person in or on the aircraft.

Model aircraft. – An aircraft, as defined in G.S. 63-1, that is mechanically driven or launched into flight and that meets all of the following requirements:

Is flown solely for hobby or recreational purposes.

b. Is not used for payment, consideration, gratuity, or benefit, directly or indirectly charged, demanded, received, or collected, by any person for the use of the aircraft or any photographic or video image produced by the aircraft.

Unmanned aircraft. – An aircraft, as defined in G.S. 63-1, that is operated without the possibility of human intervention from within or on the aircraft and that does not meet the definition of model aircraft.

Unmanned aircraft system. – An unmanned aircraft and associated elements, including communication links and components that control the unmanned aircraft that are required for the pilot in command to operate safely and efficiently in the national airspace system.

(b) General Prohibitions. – Except as otherwise provided in this section, no person, entity, or State agency shall use an unmanned aircraft system to do any of the following:

Conduct surveillance of:

A person or a dwelling occupied by a person and that dwelling’s curtilage without the person’s consent.

b. Private real property without the consent of the owner, easement holder, or lessee of the property.

Photograph an individual, without the individual’s consent, for the purpose of publishing or otherwise publicly disseminating the photograph. This subdivision shall not apply to newsgathering, newsworthy events, or events or places to which the general public is invited.

(c) Law Enforcement Exceptions. – Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection

(b) of this section, the use of unmanned aircraft systems by law enforcement agencies of the State or a political subdivision of the State is not prohibited in the following instances:

To counter a high risk of a terrorist attack by a specific individual or organization if the United States Secretary of Homeland Security or the Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety determines that credible intelligence indicates that such a risk exists.

To conduct surveillance in an area that is within a law enforcement officer’s plain view when the officer is in a location the officer has a legal right to be.

If the law enforcement agency first obtains a search warrant authorizing the use of an unmanned aircraft system.

If the law enforcement agency possesses reasonable suspicion that, under particular circumstances, swift action is needed to prevent imminent danger to life or serious damage to property, to forestall the imminent escape of a suspect or the destruction of evidence, to conduct pursuit of an escapee or suspect, or to facilitate the search for a missing person.

To photograph gatherings to which the general public is invited on public or private land.

(d) Limitations on Use of Special Imaging Technology. – Commercial and private unmanned aircraft systems may be equipped with infrared or other thermal imaging technology subject to the provisions of this subsection. Infrared or other similar thermal imaging technology equipment shall be for the sole purpose of scientific investigation; scientific research; mapping and evaluating the earth’s surface, including terrain and surface water bodies and other features; investigation or evaluation of crops, livestock, or farming operations; investigation of forests and forest management; and other similar investigations of vegetation or wildlife.

(e) Any person who is the subject of unwarranted surveillance, or whose photograph is taken in violation of the provisions of this section, shall have a civil cause of action against the person, entity, or State agency that conducts the surveillance or that uses an unmanned aircraft system to photograph for the purpose of publishing or otherwise disseminating the photograph. In lieu of actual damages, the person whose photograph is taken may elect to recover five thousand dollars ($5,000) for each photograph or video that is published or otherwise disseminated, as well as reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees and injunctive or other relief as determined by the court.

(f) Evidence obtained or collected in violation of this section is not admissible as evidence in a criminal prosecution in any court of law in this State except when obtained or collected under the objectively reasonable, good-faith belief that the actions were lawful.

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§ 15A-300.2. Regulation of launch and recovery sites.

No unmanned aircraft system may be launched or recovered from any State or private property without consent.

(b) A unit of local government may adopt an ordinance to regulate the use of the local government’s property for the launch or recovery of unmanned aircraft systems.

NCGS Chapter 14 – Criminal Law

§ 14-7.45. Crimes committed by use of unmanned aircraft systems.

All crimes committed by use of an unmanned aircraft system, as defined in G.S. 15A- 300.1, while in flight over this State shall be governed by the laws of this State, and the question of whether the conduct by an unmanned aircraft system while in flight over this State constitutes a crime by the owner of the unmanned aircraft system shall be determined by the laws of this State.

§ 14-280.3. Interference with manned aircraft by unmanned aircraft systems.

Any person who willfully damages, disrupts the operation of, or otherwise interferes with a manned aircraft through use of an unmanned aircraft system, while the manned aircraft is taking off, landing, in flight, or otherwise in motion, is guilty of a Class H felony.

(b) The following definitions apply to this section:

Manned aircraft. – As defined in G.S. 15A-300.1.

Unmanned aircraft system. – As defined in G.S. 15A-300.1.

§ 14-401.24. Unlawful possession and use of unmanned aircraft systems.

It shall be a Class E felony for any person to possess or use an unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system that has a weapon attached.

(b) It shall be a Class 1 misdemeanor for any person to fish or to hunt using an unmanned aircraft system.

(c) The following definitions apply to this section:

To fish. – As defined in G.S. 113-130.

To hunt. – As defined in G.S. 113-130.

Unmanned aircraft. – As defined in G.S. 15A-300.1.

Unmanned aircraft system. – As defined in G.S. 15A-300.1.

Weapon. – Those weapons specified in G.S. 14-269, 14-269.2, 14-284.1, or 14- 288.8 and any other object capable of inflicting serious bodily injury or death when used as a weapon.

(d) This section shall not prohibit possession or usage of an unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system that is authorized by federal law or regulation.

§ 14-401.25. Unlawful distribution of images.

It shall be a Class A1 misdemeanor to publish or disseminate, for any purpose, recorded images taken by a person or non-law enforcement entity through the use of infrared or other similar thermal imaging technology attached to an unmanned aircraft system, as defined in G.S. 15A-300.1, and revealing individuals, materials, or activities inside of a structure without the consent of the property owner.

NCGS Chapter 113 – Conservation and Development

§ 113-295. Unlawful harassment of persons taking wildlife resources.

It is unlawful for a person to interfere intentionally with the lawful taking of wildlife resources or to drive, harass, or intentionally disturb any wildlife resources for the purpose of disrupting the lawful taking of wildlife resources. It is unlawful to take or abuse property, equipment, or hunting dogs that are being used for the lawful taking of wildlife resources. This subsection does not apply to a person who incidentally interferes with the taking of wildlife resources while using the land for other lawful activity such as agriculture, mining, or recreation. This subsection also does not apply to activity by a person on land he owns or leases. Violation of this subsection is a Class 2 misdemeanor for a first conviction and a Class 1 misdemeanor for a second or subsequent conviction.

(a1) It is unlawful to use an unmanned aircraft system, as defined in G.S. 15A-300.1, to violate subsection (a) of this section. Violation of this subsection is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

(b) The Wildlife Resources Commission may, either before or after the institution of any other action or proceeding authorized by this section, institute a civil action for injunctive relief to restrain a violation or threatened violation of subsection (a) of this section pursuant to G.S. 113-131. The action shall be brought in the superior court of the county in which the violation or threatened violation is occurring or about to occur and shall be in the name of the State upon the relation of the Wildlife Resources Commission. The court, in issuing any final order in any action brought pursuant to this subsection may, in its discretion, award costs of litigation including reasonable attorney and expert-witness fees to any party.

NCGS Chapter 63 – Aeronautics

§ 63-95. Training required for operation of unmanned aircraft systems.

As used in this Article, the term “Division” means the Division of Aviation of the Department of Transportation.

(b) The Division shall develop a knowledge test for operating an unmanned aircraft system that complies with all applicable State and federal regulations and shall provide for administration of the test. The test shall ensure that the operator of an unmanned aircraft system is knowledgeable of the State statutes and regulations regarding the operation of unmanned aircraft systems. The Division may permit a person, including an agency of this State, an agency of a political subdivision of this State, an employer, or a private training facility, to administer the test developed pursuant to this subsection, provided the test is the same as that administered by the Division and complies with all applicable State and federal regulations.

(c) No agent or agency of the State, or agent or agency of a political subdivision of the State, may operate an unmanned aircraft system within the State without completion of the test set forth in subsection (b) of this section.

§ 63-96. Permit required for commercial operation of unmanned aircraft systems.

No person shall operate an unmanned aircraft system, as defined in G.S. 15A-300.1, in this State for commercial purposes unless the person is in possession of a permit issued by the Division valid for the unmanned aircraft system being operated. Application for the permit shall be made in the manner provided by the Division. Unless suspended or revoked, the license shall be effective for a period to be established by the Division not exceeding eight years.

(b) No person shall be issued a permit under this section unless all of the following apply:

The person is at least 16 years of age.

The person possesses a valid drivers license issued by any state or territory of the United States or the District of Columbia.

The person has passed the knowledge test for operating an unmanned aircraft system as prescribed in G.S. 63-95(b).

The person has satisfied all other applicable requirements of this Article or federal regulation.

(c) A permit to operate an unmanned aircraft system for commercial purposes shall not be issued to a person while the person’s license or permit to operate an unmanned aircraft system is suspended, revoked, or cancelled in any state.

(d) The Division shall develop and administer a program that complies with all applicable federal regulations to issue permits to operators of unmanned aircraft systems for commercial purposes. The program must include the following components:

A system for classifying unmanned aircraft systems based on characteristics determined to be appropriate by the Division.

A fee structure for permits.

A permit application process, which shall include a requirement that the Division provide notice to an applicant of the Division’s decision on issuance of a permit no later than 10 days from the date the Division receives the applicant’s application.

Technical guidance for complying with program requirements.

Criteria under which the Division may suspend or revoke a permit.

Criteria under which the Division may waive permitting requirements for applicants currently holding a valid license or permit to operate unmanned aircraft systems issued by another state or territory of the United States, the District of Columbia, or the United States.

A designation of the geographic area within which a permittee shall be authorized to operate an unmanned aircraft system. The rules adopted by the Division for designating a geographic area pursuant to this subdivision shall be no more restrictive than the rules or regulations adopted by the Federal Aviation Administration for designating a geographic area for the commercial operation of unmanned aircraft systems.

Requirements pertaining to the collection, use, and retention of data by permitees obtained through the operation of unmanned aircraft systems, to be established in consultation with the State Chief Information Officer.

Requirements for the marking of each unmanned aircraft system operated pursuant to a permit issued under this section sufficient to allow identification of the owner of the system and the person issued a permit to operate it.

A system for providing agencies that conduct other operations within regulated airspace with the identity and contact information of permittees and the geographic areas within which the permittee is authorized to operate an unmanned aircraft system.

(e) A person who operates an unmanned aircraft system for commercial purposes other than as permitted under this section shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

(f) The Division may issue rules and regulations to implement the provisions of this section.

S.L. 2015-232 SECTION 2.5

Prior to the implementation of the knowledge test and permitting process required by G.S. 63-96, any person authorized by the FAA for commercial operation of an unmanned aircraft system in this State shall not be in violation of that statute, provided that the person makes application for a State permit for commercial operation within 60 days of the full implementation of the permitting process and is issued a State commercial operation permit in due course.

S.L. amended by Section 7.11(a) of S.L. 2014-100 and amended by Section 2.1 of S.L. 2015-232 reads as follows:

SECTION 7.16(e) Until December 31, 2015, the State CIO shall have the authority to approve or disapprove (i) the procurement or operation of an unmanned aircraft system by agents or agencies of the State or a political subdivision of the State and (ii) the disclosure of personal information about any person acquired through the operation of an unmanned aircraft system by agents or agencies of the State or a political subdivision of the State. When making a decision under this subsection, the State CIO may consult with the Division of Aviation of the Department of Transportation. The State CIO shall immediately report to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Information Technology and the Fiscal Research Division on all decisions made under this subsection. Notwithstanding G.S. 63-95(c), agents or agencies of the State or a political subdivision of the State that receive State CIO approval under this subsection may procure or operate an unmanned aircraft system prior to the implementation of the knowledge test required by G.S. 63-95. In addition to receiving approval from the State CIO under this subsection, agents or agencies of the State or a political subdivision of the State who submit a request on or after the date of implementation of the knowledge test required by G.S. 63-95 shall also be subject to the provisions of that section. The following definitions apply in this section:

“Unmanned aircraft” means an aircraft that is operated without the possibility of human intervention from within or on the aircraft.

“Unmanned aircraft system” means an unmanned aircraft and associated elements, including communication links and components that control the unmanned aircraft that are required for the pilot in command to operate safely and efficiently in the national airspace system.”

NCGS Chapter 113 – Conservation and Development 113-295. Unlawful harassment of persons taking wildlife resources.

It is unlawful for a person to interfere intentionally with the lawful taking of wildlife resources or to drive, harass, or intentionally disturb any wildlife resources for the purpose of disrupting the lawful taking of wildlife resources. It is unlawful to take or abuse property, equipment, or hunting dogs that are being used for the lawful taking of wildlife resources. This subsection does not apply to a person who incidentally interferes with the taking of wildlife resources while using the land for other lawful activity such as agriculture, mining, or recreation. This subsection also does not apply to activity by a person on land he owns or leases. Violation of this subsection is a Class 2 misdemeanor for a first conviction and a Class 1 misdemeanor for a second or subsequent conviction.

(a1) It is unlawful to use an unmanned aircraft system, as defined in G.S. 15A-300.1, to violate subsection (a) of this section. Violation of this subsection is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

(b) The Wildlife Resources Commission may, either before or after the institution of any other action or proceeding authorized by this section, institute a civil action for injunctive relief to restrain a violation or threatened violation of subsection

(a) of this section pursuant to G.S. 113- 131. The action shall be brought in the superior court of the county in which the violation or threatened violation is occurring or about to occur and shall be in the name of the State upon the relation of the Wildlife Resources Commission. The court, in issuing any final order in any action brought pursuant to this subsection may, in its discretion, award costs of litigation including reasonable attorney and expert-witness fees to any party.

State Parks NCAC Rules – Subchapter 12B

PARKS AND RECREATION AREAS SECTION .0100 – GENERAL PROVISIONS

315A NCAC 12B .1204 AVIATION

A person shall not voluntarily bring, land or cause to descend or alight, ascend or take off within or upon any park area, any airplane, flying machine, balloon, parachute, glider, hang glider, or other apparatus for aviation. Voluntarily in this connection shall mean anything other than a forced landing.

(b) In park areas where aviation activities are part of the planned park activities, a special use permit will be required. Requests for permits may be made in the manner prescribed by Rule .0104 of this Subchapter.

Other Legal Issues With Drones in North Carolina

Other than not being able to fly pretty much anywhere in the state, and the number of laws that are already set in place regarding drones, you’re pretty much good to go in the state of North Carolina.

If you, a recreational drone user, find a loophole or any leeway in the state whatsoever, all the power to you. This state is one of the most difficult ones to own and operate a drone in, unfortunately.

FAQ on North Carolina Law and Drones

If you do not see your question, or an answer to it, listed below, feel free to get in touch with us and we’ll gladly give you one.

Is a drone/UAS considered the same as a model aircraft?

The United States Congress has defined and concluded that a model aircraft is only considered a drone or a UAS when the following points are met:

It’s flown for recreational purposes or as a hobby and not for any business or commercial reasons
It’s flown within visible distance, meaning being able to see it at all times, of the individual operating it
It’s capable of sustaining flight within the atmosphere, meaning that it can fly

If your model aircraft, regardless of whether or not you acquired it pre-built or built it yourself, meets the above points to your knowledge, it’s considered a drone/UAS.

What is the Small UAS Rule?

The Small UAS Rule requires those who have unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, that weigh less than 55 pounds, payload included, to register their aircraft with the FAA. This only applies to recreational or hobby fliers and not commercial drone use, however.

Is the FAA’s Small UAS Rule still in effect?

Yes, it has been in effect from August 29th of 2016 and is still in effect at this time of writing.

Do I have to carry my Certificate of Aircraft Registration while flying my UAS at all times?

Yes, you must have the registration certificate from the FAA at all times during flight operation. In accordance with federal law, all UAS operators must show their certificate of registration to any local, state, or federal law enforcement officer when they are asked to do so.

What do I do for registration if my UAS is over the 55-pound limit?

If your UAS weighs more than 55 pounds, including payload, you will need to register it by clicking here.

How do I request flight permission from Air Traffic Control to operate within airspace class B, C, D, or E?

You can contact Air Traffic Control for flight permission through the FAA portal available online by clicking here.

sUAS Service Agreement

Drone Laws in North Carolina

Being a drone owner in the state of North Carolina is some tricky business, so ensure that you educate yourself on the laws that are in place. Respecting the law will make sure that you don’t get yourself in trouble over flying a drone.

One comment

  1. Ihave wanted one for a few years now, and was going to buy one next week till i read this. I understand the need for safety and responsible use but it appears this state has screwed every recreational user living in NC. 😳

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