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DRONE REGULATIONS

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) are an increasingly popular tool in the production industry. As the use of UAS is so new, the regulations pertaining to them are continually evolving. UAS are sometimes also referred to as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or Drones.
 



CITY OF AUSTIN REGULATIONS

The City of Austin allows the use of UAS for filming. In January 2017, the Austin Police Department issued the following Training Announcement regarding enforcement related to drones:

Officers should not focus their enforcement efforts on drones flying safely in public places, or over private property where the drone operator has permission to operate. There are a number of different scenarios, however, where drone operation:

  • (1) presents a potential hazard to public safety;

  • (2) violates private property rights or privacy interests;

  • (3) or interferes with legitimate law enforcement operations. It is in these situations that officers should consider enforcement action. Officers who encounter drones being used in these situations should use the title code “Drone Involved # 4208” for tracking repeat offenders. 


1. Unsafe Operation of Drones in Public Places:

  • Enforcement will be primarily focused on the unsafe operation of drones over or near events with a large number of people, such as sporting events, races, outdoor concerts, and other special events. Officers may also respond to reports of unsafe drone operation in other situations. Examples might include flying a drone: 

    • near buildings, people, motor vehicles, or animals; 

    • outside of the operator’s line of sight; 

    • near overhead lines; or

    • in the vicinity of other aircraft 

  • Officers may enforce the following City Code provisions—violation of which is a class C misdemeanor—when they observe unsafe drone operation in public places, including drones operating over crowds:

    • Section 13-1-14(B)(3) (Prohibited Acts): “The operator of an aircraft may not: (3) operate an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner that creates a danger to another person’s health or property.”

    • Section 13-1-13 (Hazards to Air Navigation): “If requested to do so by an airport official or police officer acting at the direction of the air traffic controller or the director (of the Aviation Department), a person in the corporate limits of the city must immediately remove a hazard to air navigation, including a kite, balloon, model aircraft, radio-controlled aircraft, or other similar device or object.” 

  •  If an officer observes a drone operating within 5 miles of the airport, they may contact an air traffic control or aviation department official to determine if the flight is authorized. If requested by an airport official, an officer may require a drone operator to land a drone.

  • Officers should not: Enforce City Code provisions, including § 13-1-11, that require an airman’s certificate, or a certificate of airworthiness, for operation of a drone. 


2. Drones on Private Property:

  • State law prohibits individuals from using drones to surveil private property or certain critical public infrastructure.

  • Texas Gov’t Code Chapter 423 creates an offense (class C misdemeanor) if a person uses a drone to: 

    • “capture an image of an individual or privately owned real property…with the intent to conduct surveillance on the individual or property captured in the image.” TEX. GOV’T CODE § 423.003(a).

    • It is a class B misdemeanor for a person to disclose, distribute, or display an image or video taken in violation of section 423.003. TEX. GOV’T CODE § 423.004. It is a defense to prosecution if the drone operator destroys the images captured upon being informed that capturing the images violates the law. Regardless, police officers should NOT destroy images captured by a drone. 

  •  Texas Gov’t Code Chapter 423 also makes it an offense to operate a drone over a “critical infrastructure facility” (e.g., electrical power facility or a water treatment plant) at an altitude of less than 400 feet, or in a manner that interferes with the facility, unless the person has prior written consent or (if a commercial drone) consent from the FAA to operate in the airspace. 


3. Drones Interfering with Law Enforcement: 

  • Officers should NOT detain a drone operator who is safely using a drone to record police in a public place, performing law enforcement duties, from a safe distance that is outside of any cordoned-off or restricted area, UNLESS officers can articulate specific facts to demonstrate that:

    • the drone operator is in violation of one of the laws cited above;

    • the drone operator is interfering with or impeding a law enforcement operation in violation of Texas Penal Code § 38.15; or

    • the drone operator, by flying the drone in the vicinity of an emergency or accident scene, is interfering with law enforcement, fire-fighting, or rescue efforts and refuses to comply with the direction of the on-scene authority (including police officers in control of the scene) or air traffic controller, in violation of Austin City Code § 13-1-16 

  • Examples of when a drone may be interfering with, disrupting, or impeding law enforcement or emergency responders include:

    • the drone is operating inside of a cordoned-off crime or accident scene that is not accessible to the public;

    • there is a police or emergency helicopter in the vicinity;

    • the drone is reasonably believed to be capable of streaming live video (this belief may be developed by interviewing the operator, prior experience with the operator, or by relying on facts developed by other officers who, for example, observe the live internet stream) and is monitoring a police pursuit, a SWAT deployment, or a search for a fleeing suspect; or

    • the drone is flying so close to officers or other emergency responders that it is disrupting operations or placing the officers or emergency responders in danger drones can disrupt or pose a danger to officers or other emergency responders with their lights, noise, or proximity (drones may lose control and their rotor blades can cause injuries). 

  •  Officers making an arrest for interference or impeding should be able to articulate specific facts to demonstrate how the drone negatively affected emergency or law enforcement operations. 

 
4. Seizure of Drones as Evidence: 

  • Drones may be or contain (typically in the form of stored video) evidence of a crime. Accordingly, in appropriate circumstances, they may be subject to search and seizure by police.

  • Officers should adhere to APD Policy 306 when searching or seizing a drone. 

  • Officers who reasonably believe that a drone is evidence or contains evidence of crime must get permission from their supervisor before searching or seizing the drone. 

The Federal Aviation Administration has published a printable reference card to help guide police officers who encounter potentially unsafe or illegal operation of drones. The card is available at: https://www.faa.gov/uas/law_enforcement/LEO_guidance_card.pdf



Like any other commercial filming, if any City of Austin property is used for UAS filming a permit must be obtained to use the property. This includes filming in parks or any pilot/crew setup on a City of Austin right of way (roadway or sidewalk).

Areas around the City of Austin where UAS flight is restricted:

  • Any flight area with emergency responders at work (i.e. fire hazards, flood & air rescue)

  • Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA) *

  • Camp Mabry Military Base

  • Circuit of the Americas *

  • Dams & Power Stations (i.e. Mansfield Dam & Tom Miller Dam)

  • Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium **

  • Texas Capital Grounds

  • Texas State Parks (only with permission)

*  There is a No-fly-zone (NFZ) in-place within a five-mile radius of all airports including ABIA.
**A temporary flight restriction (TFR) is a regulatory action that briefly restricts aircraft within a three-mile radius a defined area. A TFR is issued during certain sporting events (like Longhorn games) and presidential visits.
 



STATE OF TEXAS REGULATIONS
The State of Texas's Government Code regarding use of unmanned aircrafts details what is permissible use (423.002) and what is considered an offense (423.003, 423.004, 423.045). Contact the local municipality you're filming in to see if they have their own additional regulations.

Texas Government Code regarding use of UAS: Texas Government Code, Chapter 423 - Use of Unmanned Aircraft
 



FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION (FAA) REGULATIONS
The FAA requires that UAS owners register their UAS prior to operation. This rule pertains to UAS weighing more than 250 grams and less than 55 pounds. The FAA also asks that UAS activities stay under 400 feet. This is to make sure the UAS don't fly at the same operating altitudes as full sized aircraft.

FAA guides and rules that may be helpful:


For more information on UAS use, please contact: Federal Aviation Administration - Southwest Region

Kelvin L. Solco
Southwest Region Regional Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration
817-222-5001

Michael O'Harra
Southwest Region Deputy Regional Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration
817-222-5002
 



ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Know Before You Fly
An education campaign founded by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), and the Small UAV Coalition in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to educate prospective users about the safe and responsible operation of UAS.

CSATF Recommended Guidelines for Safely Working Around UAS
Safety bulletins via the Contract Services Administration Trust Fund, A non-profit organization that administers a variety of programs for the benefit of the motion picture and television industry.