Even if you are following the strict rules and regulations for drones that have been put in place by the FAA, you may not be following any existing laws and/or rules that are set by the state you are flying in.
This article will give a brief overview of the laws in your state, but we can’t keep cover all the minutae in only two thousand words. That’s why we highly recommend that you do some research on your own time and, ideally, enroll in a professional course if you’re actually looking to get certified. Though there’s lots of options for learning more about drone laws, we highly recommend the#1 Rated Professional Course: Drone Pilot Ground School. Get $50 Off as a Dronethusiast reader, just click the link and sign up. It’s a great way to learn about drone laws and piloting that’s cheaper than most of its competition, you can purchase it once and own it forever and they’re constantly updating their professional training.
All that said, let’s move on to the important stuff.
Flying Over Virginia
Unfortunately, it’s very unclear where Virginia drone users can legally fly their drones without issues. A lot of the apps used for mapping safe drone zones show NO FLY ZONE when users were told by friends otherwise, so it’s very unclear where flying is allowed legally.
Because of this, we suggest you inquire directly with wherever you plan on flying, or ask other residential drone users that you know personally for ideas on where you can legally fly a drone in Virginia.
The Registering Process in Virginia
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 Virginia
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 Virginia, 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 Virginia
At this time of writing, all of the legal information listed below is deemed as accurate as possible and fully in effect.
Virginia Acts of Assembly – Chapter 18.2-130.1
An Act to amend the Code of Virginia by adding a section numbered 18.2-130.1, relating to the use of electronic device to trespass; peeping into dwelling or occupied building; penalty.
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:
That the Code of Virginia is amended by adding a section numbered 182.130.1 as follows:
§ 18.2-130.1. Peeping or spying into dwelling or occupied building by electronic device; penalty.
It is unlawful for any person to knowingly and intentionally cause an electronic device to enter the property of another to secretly or furtively peep or spy or attempt to peep or spy into or through a window, door, or other aperture of any building, structure, or other enclosure occupied or intended for occupancy as a dwelling, whether or not such building, structure or enclosure is permanently situated or transportable and whether or not such occupancy is permanent or temporary; or to do the same, without just cause, upon property owned by him and leaser or rented to another under circumstances that would violate the occupant’s reasonable expectation or privacy. A violation of this section is a Class 1 misdemeanor. The provisions of this section shall not apply to a lawful criminal investigation.
Virginia Acts of Assembly – Chapter § 27-151.1
An Act to amend and reenact § 27-15.1 of the Code of Virginia, relating to the authority of a fire chief over unmanned aircraft at a fire, explosion, or other hazardous situation.
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:
That § 27-15.1 of the Code of Virginia is amended and reenacted as follows:
§ 27-51.1. Authority of chief or other officer in charge when answering alarm; penalty for refusal to obey orders.
While any fire department or fire company is in the process of answering an alarm where there is imminent danger or the actual occurrence of fire or explosion or the uncontrolled release of hazardous materials that threaten life or property and returning to the station, the chief or other officer in charge or such fire department or fire company at that time shall have the authority to
(i) maintain order at such emergency incident or its vicinity, including the immediate airspace;
The fire chief of other officer in charge shall display his firefighter’s badge or other proper means of identification. Notwithstanding any other provision of the law, this authority shall extend to the activation of traffic control signals designed to facilitate the safe egress and ingress of emergency equipment at a fire station.
Any person or persons refusing to obey the orders of the chief or other officer in charge at that time is guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor. The chief of other officer in charge shall have the power to make arrests for violation of the provisions of this section.
HB 2125 Use of unmanned aircraft systems; search warrant required.
Replaces the moratorium currently set to expire on July 1, 2015 on the use of unmanned aircraft systems by state and local law-enforcement and regulatory entities, except in defined emergency situations or in training exercises related to such situations, with an absolute prohibition on the use of unmanned aircraft systems by such law-enforcement and regulatory entities unless a search warrant has been obtained prior to such use.
The warrant requirement does not apply to
(i) utilization of such systems to support the Commonwealth for purposes other than law enforcement;
(ii) certain search and rescue operations;
(iii) certain Virginia National Guard and United States Armed Forces functions;
(iv) research and development conducted by institutions of higher education or other research organizations; or
(v) the use of unmanned aircraft systems for private, commercial, or recreational use.
§ 15.2-926.3. Local regulation of certain aircraft.
No locality may regulate the use of privately owned, unmanned aircraft system as defined in § 19.2-60.1 within its boundaries.
Senate Bill No. 729
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:
1. That the Code of Virginia is amended by adding a section numbered 18.2-462.2 as follows:
§18.2-462.2. Use of unmanned aircraft system to commit crime; while obstructing certain officials; penalty.
Any person who knowingly uses or attempts to use an unmanned aircraft system as defined in §19.2-60.1 (i) to commit or attempt to commit a crime, (ii) while obstructing or attempting to obstruct the delivery of emergency medical services by emergency medical services agency personnel, or (iii) while obstructing or attempting to obstruct any law-enforcement officer or animal control officer in the performance of his duties is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. A violation of this section is a separate and distinct offense.
§ 10.1-101. Powers of the Department
B. Pursuant to the Administrative Process Act (§ 2.2-4000 et seq.), the Department may promulgate regulations necessary to carry out the purposes and provisions of this subtitle. A violation of any regulation shall constitute a Class 1 misdemeanor, unless a different penalty is prescribed by the Code of Virginia. However, a violation of the Virginia State Park Regulations (4VAC5-30) shall constitute a Class 3 misdemeanor.
Other Legal Issues With Drones in Virginia
All drones are banned in any state park within the state of Virginia, as you will find out below.
§ 10.1-104 Powers of the Department – 4VAC5-30-400. Aviation.
No person shall voluntarily bring, land or cause to descend or alight within or upon any park, any airplane, remote control model aircraft, flying machine, balloon, parachute or other apparatus for aviation. “Voluntarily” in this connection shall mean anything other than a forced landing.
Virginia Beach Parks & Recreation 2017 Park Regulations
Flying motor-powered or remote-controlled aircraft, rockets, gliders, or any unmanned aircraft systems are prohibited.
FAQ on Virginia 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.
Drone Laws in Virginia
Knowing the laws, regulations, restrictions, etc., regarding drones in your state is extremely important. Remember to educate yourself, follow the rules, fly safely and responsibly, and have fun!
The writer known as I Coleman is a veteran tech reviewer who’s spent seven years writing about everything from PC hardware to drone tech and who joined the Dronethusiast team early in 2017. I brings his characteristic sense of humor and attention to detail to our product reviews and buyer’s guides, making sure that they’re packed with expert analysis in a way that’s still easy for hobby newcomers to understand. In his spare time, I is using drones to create 3D modeling software for a company in his hometown.