Legal tips to consider if you’re buying a drone this holiday season

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is estimating over one million drones may be sold this holiday season. The novice recreational drone operator, however, may lack proper safety training, insurance, and knowledge of the regulatory environment. So, before you take Junior out to earn his wings this year, plan ahead with a few simple steps that will give you peace of mind.

Safety First

The FAA has mandated basic safety guidelines to ensure that your drone experience is safe and enjoyable. The FAA requires drone operators to keep drones within their line of sight, below 400 feet, and yield right of way to manned aircraft. Drone flight is not allowed within five miles of an airport unless airport authorities are first notified.

Follow the FAA’s minimum requirements along with common sense. Do not fly drones in weather conditions that could cause the operator to lose control of the drone, such as high winds or reduced visibility. Avoid emergency situations (such as wildfires and medical evacuations) and avoid flight over or around stadiums and large open-air events. The FAA’s B4UFly app is an easy way to know if you are under appropriate airspace to fly a drone.

Currently, the FAA does not require pilot training for recreational drone flight. But, as we reported in June, the FAA also finalized rules for commercial drone flight that took effect in August which include pilot training requirements for commercial drone use. If you are considering commercial drone use or merely wish to prepare for safe recreational use, training opportunities are available. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s Know Before You Fly campaign also provides educational materials. More customized and in-person training is available as well, as pilot training opportunities grow alongside the drone industry itself.

Know the Law

You must register your drone with the FAA if the drone weighs more than 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds. Once registered, you may label your drone with the FAA registration number. Registrants must be 13 years of age or older.

Drone operators should also check with local authorities for additional restrictions on drone flight beyond the FAA rules and guidelines. Community ordinances and other guidelines may be better tailored to safe flight based on local geography and other conditions. Drone operators should also be mindful of private property rights and neighbor’s privacy. Drones that carry an onboard camera or have other data collection capabilities could incur potential tort liability from routine flights, even if not designed for intentional surveillance. Merely posting drone-captured images to social media could be deemed content that violates the privacy of others, and any resulting damages may not be covered by your insurance policy, if available. Of course, recreational operators should control drones in their own space as a matter of common courtesy as well.


There is no legal requirement that drone operators acquire insurance, but mandatory insurance could be on the horizon as the drone industry and regulations mature. For now, the landscape for the drone insurance industry includes recreational and commercial use.

Recreational Drone Insurance

Hobbyists should initially check the terms of their homeowners’ or renters’ insurance policies to determine if their drones are already covered. Though some policies do not provide coverage or specifically include an aviation exclusion, many policies will insure against property damage from drone-related incidents. Some may only cover damage to someone else’s property, however, leaving the policyholder’s own property uninsured. You may want to reach out to your insurance agent this holiday season before you buy a drone to ask for an acknowledgement in writing that your insurance policy covers damages resulting from drone-related incidents.

Insurance specifically for recreational drone use is also available. The Academy of Model Aeronautics charges adults $75 year for a membership that includes drone insurance. The AMA insurance covers up to $2.5 million in personal liability insurance and $25,000 in medical coverage. Other alternatives are popping up around the quickly expanding drone industry as well.

Commercial Drone Insurance

Commercial insurance policies generally preclude aviation liability. Even commercial drone insurers have little experience to draw upon to price premiums because the regulatory environment is still maturing and the FAA only just recently finalized rules. Nonetheless, as the regulatory environment develops, insurers will better understand risk-factors that increase the likelihood of an accident and drone operators may acquire more training and experience.

Commercial drone insurance is currently available. To assess risk, insurers typically investigate the make and model of the drone, operator experience, and the planned use of the drone. Of course the amount of coverage and the type of insurance also factor heavily into drone premiums. Legal liability insurance protects against costs to repair damaged property or injury to other persons. Operators may also consider insurance for crashing another person’s drone, physical damage to their own drone, liability from alleged invasion of privacy, medical expenses, and premises liability.

Drone manufacturers may purchase insurance for product liability caused by the product rather than operator error. Service providers such as software designers, drone dealers and operator trainers may also wish to protect themselves against products liability with insurance.

With these considerations in mind, drone flight for fun or work may be a safe and enjoyable experience this holiday season. But before taking to the skies, operators should consider safety, regulatory, and insurance considerations. If necessary, legal professionals are available to assess risks and suggest a course of action.

Planning on buying a drone this holiday season, or have general drone safety, regulation, and insurance questions? Please contact one of the attorneys listed below.

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