Drone laws in North Carolina


Photo by @drone.pilot.jay

Table of Contents

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. These days, it could be a drone – i.e. an unmanned aerial vehicle, also called an unmanned aircraft system. More drones are popping up in the skies around town, and more photographers are getting killer shots of local landmarks using the tech. DYK: Drones started taking off in the commercial + recreational markets in the last decade, and the trend shows no sign of slowing.

Since drones are still relatively new, we wondered about NC’s rules + regulations surrounding drone use. Here’s what we found out.

  • Many of the regulations related to drone operation focus on safety + privacy.
  • Drone operators must comply with all FAA regulations + policies.
  • Drones cannot be used:
    • To conduct surveillance of or photograph a person or private property without consent. Note: Some exceptions exist for law enforcement + emergency management agencies.
    • Within 500’ (horizontally) or 250’ (vertically) of a local, state, or federal correctional facility.
    • To hunt or as weapons, or to disrupt the lawful taking of wildlife resources.If your drone weighs more than .55 lbs, you’ll need to pay $5 to register it.

If you’re a recreational flyer (a.k.a. if you fly your drone for fun), you must register your drone and mark it with the registration number (and carry proof of registration). You don’t need a special permit or license. Plus,

  • You must fly the drone no higher than 400’ above the ground in uncontrolled airspace.
  • Your drone must be in your visual line of sight, or in the line of sight of someone in communication with you.
  • You shouldn’t fly over a person, stadium, public event, or moving vehicle.
  • You shouldn’t fly at night.
  • You can’t interfere with the work of emergency response personnel.

Have questions on where you can fly your drone? There’s an app for that (B4UFLY). You can also check Airmap. Here are a few tips to remember.

  • You need special permission if you want to use your drone in a state park.
  • Some local governments + national parks have drone restrictions, so always check before you fly. For example, you can’t fly a drone on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but you can fly it nearby, in areas that aren’t under the jurisdiction of the NPS or state parks.
  • Indoor flights are under the jurisdiction of building owners, but imagery collected is still subject to state laws.

Planning to operate a drone for commercial purposes (i.e. for compensation or a business purpose)? You’ll need a permit and must pass a knowledge test and register with the state. Get more info here.

Follow a few of our favorite local drone photographers:


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