Drones are not simple toys anymore, and because of their growing popularity, the government has been trying to regulate their use. After all, drones can be used for many different things, and they are becoming an integral part of our society. And unfortunately, sometimes they can do a lot of harm if misused.
This is why there are certain laws and regulations in place that we all need to adhere to.
However, and it is a big one, the information in this article should not be viewed as legal advice. Laws are constantly changing. I am doing my best to stay on top of things. But Some of the information given below can—and most likely will—at some point, change.
The FAA is constantly working on improving current laws and regulations. It is the drone operator’s responsibility to make sure they are well-informed and up to date on the current regulations and laws.
Who Regulates Drone Usage in Texas?
The federal government has control over the navigable airspace, which is from 500 or 1000 feet. And the state keeps the ability to exercise control over the airspace below it.
Overall, there are three main institutions that can create applicable laws and regulations concerning drone usage in Texas.
- The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA);
- The Texas Privacy Act; and
- City or local ordinances.
Do You Have to Register Your Drone in Texas?
The FAA recognizes and refers to drones as UAS (Unmanned aircraft systems), and they fall in two different categories:
- Small UAS (sUAS) – Drones that weigh between 0.55 lbs and 55 lbs (between 250 grams and 25 kg, respectively). The weight includes the whole drone, including any props, cameras, and other accessories, which may be attached to it. Tethered drones also fall into this category.
- UAS – Drones that weigh 55 lbs or more. Drones in that category need to be registered with the FAA. In a similar manner to sUAS, the weight is calculated by taking the total weight of the drone and any additional accessories which may be attached to it.
If your drone weighs more than 0.55 lbs (250 grams), you are required to register your drone with the FAA.
After a drone has been registered, it needs to be properly labeled with its unique registration number, which has been issued by the FAA.
According to the FAA, the label needs to be placed on a visible part of the drone and be present at all times.
You can use different ways to do that like using a permanent marker, a permanent label, or even engrave the registration number on the hull.
Type of Drone Registrations
There are two main types of drone registrations, depending on how the drones will be used.
You need a part 107 registration if you are planning on flying your drone commercially. This involves anything from aerial photography, video recordings, or other commercial work.
Under part 107, you can do commercial work as well as fly the drone recreationally.
The major thing here is that you have to register each and every drone that you will be using. The registration costs $5 per drone and will be valid for 3 years.
If you decide to register your drone per Part 107, and you will also need to apply for a Part 107 certification—which involves passing a test.
To be eligible for the certificate, you need to be at least 16 years old, fluent in English and be in good physical and mental condition.
The second type is the Section 336 registration. Section 336 is the place for all hobbyists or modelers.
If you do not plan to fly commercially, you can register under section 336. If at some point in the future, you decide to fly commercially, you can register under part 107.
Section 336 is for people that plan to fly their drone recreationally or, in other words, just for fun.
Right now, there are no tests that recreational drone pilots need to pass. However, the FAA has stated they are planning on having all drone pilots pass an online test and require them to carry proof of the test passage with them while flying their drones.
To be eligible to register under section 336, you need to be at least 13 years old or older and own a U.S. citizenship or permanent residence.
Do You Have to Register Multiple Drones in Texas?
As you are now aware, there are two different registrations, (1) a commercial and (2) a modeler registration.
When registering under Part 107, you will have to register each drone separately—in other words, each drone flown under part 107 will have a unique registration number.
However, if you are flying your drones non-commercially—read recreationally—you need to only register yourself as a hobbyist or a modeler under Section 336.
So if you are flying multiple drones under section 336, the same registration code—which you need to place on your drone—can be used on multiple drones at the same time.
Currently, there is no information about a limit as to how many drones you can have under section 336.
How to Register a Drone in Texas?
Registering your drone in Texas is very easy.
All drones that weigh between 0.55 lbs (250 grams) and 55 lbs (25 kg) can be registered online—all you have to do is visit the website of the FAA, here.
The FAA is the only place you can register a drone legally, and I recommend going through the FAA directly.
If you are flying a drone that is 55 lbs or more, you will have to register it by paper. The process is easy but more time-consuming. More information can be found on the FAA’s website here.
Where Can You Fly a Drone in Texas?
You can fly a drone in Texas in public areas as long as the drone is no higher than 8 feet above the ground level.
You can also capture images and footage of public property and people located on public property.
You can also take footage of private property as long as the legal owners or residents have clearly given their consent.
An excellent way to make sure you are flying in safe to fly areas is to use the B4UFLY app. The app will give you all the necessary information about the different areas where you can or cannot fly your drone.
It is free and available for both Android and iOS devices. More information can be found here.
Are There Unique Drone Laws in Texas?
At all times, you need to follow the FAA regulations. Some states do not have any special laws regarding drone usage. However, others may have additional regulations that you need to be aware of.
This is why even though you can be FAA compliant, you can still break the law in some states.
If you are going to be flying a drone in Texas, you need to keep in mind that there may be different state-wide and local city laws that may affect where you can use your drone. It is the responsibility of the drone operator to stay informed.
The state of Texas has passed several bills and have added to the existing FAA regulations the following:
This bill defines and regulates the use of drones for taking images and video recordings. It also establishes the penalties for not following the law.
More in-depth information can be found here.
This law regulates the use of drones over some facilities—it is prohibited to fly drones over correctional and detention facilities, sports venues.
More information can be found here.
This bill expands the list of critical infrastructure over which it is illegal to fly a drone. This includes, but it is not limited to, telecommunication structures, animal farms, and feeding structures and lots, oil and gas-related structures, and facilities. There are some exceptions for special events.
More information can be found here.
This bill regulates some of the images that can be captured from a drone. It adds an extensive list of prohibited uses. It also allows certain professionals to capture images under specific conditions.
More detailed information can be found here.
What Happens If You Do Not Follow the Texas Law Regarding Drones?
Not adhering to the laws can lead to prosecution.
A first-time violation of the HB-1424, for example, can lead to a conviction for a Class B misdemeanor, and any subsequent violations will be categorized as a Class A misdemeanor.
Capturing video of photo images with the intent to conduct surveillance in Texas is classified as a Class C misdemeanor. If said, video footage or photo images are distributed in any way this can become a Class B misdemeanor.
On a separate note, it is important to note that each video footage or photo can be treated as a separate offense, so these cases can stack up pretty quickly.
- Class C misdemeanor is punishable by a fine of up to $500.
- Class B misdemeanor under Texas’ law can result in a fine of up to $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail.
- Class A misdemeanor under Texas’ laws is punishable by a fine of up to $4,000 and up to 365 days in jail.
Additionally, affected parties can file a lawsuit that can result in civil penalties between $5,000 to $10,000.
Failing to register your drone can also incur civil penalties up to $27,500 and criminal penalties up to $250,000, including possible time in jail.
Best Practices for Flying a Drone Legally in Texas
Now I want to add some additional information and tips as to what are the best flying practices.
- First, make sure you adhere to the Texas state rules and regulations, laws, and the FAA rules at all times.
- Operate your drone during the daytime and keep it always within visible distance.
- Do not fly your drone higher than 400 feet from the ground.
- Keep the drone in your visual line of sight.
- Fly in Class G airspace.
- The rule of thumb is to never fly drones in very close proximity and especially above other people, public events, gatherings, venues, and overall busy areas.
- Do not fly your drone in any restricted areas. These include but are not limited to correction facilities, within a five-mile radius from airports, critical infrastructure, private property, farms, and more. If you will be flying a drone within five miles from an airport—no matter what the reason maybe—you need to speak with the air traffic control or their management.
- Do not use your drone to harass or spy others.
- Do not fly your drone in a way that will disturb animals or livestock. You are also not allowed to use it for hunting or fishing or trapping animals.
- Do not fly near other aircraft.
- I know what you are thinking, but no, you are not allowed to shoot down a drone even in Texas.
- It is not legal to own or fly a weaponized drone.
- And lastly, do not use a drone if you are under the influence.