What you need to know before flying a drone

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Drones are one of the most popular tech products, but they’re not as simple as opening the box, charging the batteries and then letting the new gadget soar into the skies.

There are several rules that need to be obeyed.

The Federal Aviation Administration first insists that all owners must register their unit with the agency or face fines of up to $250,000. You can register here: http://www.faa.gov/uas/registration.

From there, many cities have rules about drone use in their municipalities, some hard and fast, others gray. (San Francisco, for instance, strictly outlaws drone flying at the Golden Gate Bridge, but not everywhere in the city.)

The DJI Mavic II drone, flying over Palos Verdes Estates, California.
The DJI Mavic II drone, flying over Palos Verdes Estates, California. (Photo: Jefferson Graham)

The basic bottom line:

No drone flying over:

— 400 feet in the air.

— People’s heads.

— Moving cars.

— A sports stadium.

And most important, no flying after dark or within 5 miles of an airport (unless you can get authorization.) Additionally, the drone has to remain within your line of sight the entire time.

A “No drone zone” in Laguna Beach, California
A “No drone zone” in Laguna Beach, California (Photo: Jefferson Graham)

Photographers, real estate agents and others who want to use drones for their businesses need to get what’s called a Part 107 waiver from the FAA. It’s not an easy test; it’s more about understanding airspace and how airplanes and airports interact than the operation of a drone. There are several online courses set up to help people study for the test, including Drone Launch Academy.

DJI, the No. 1 manufacturer of drones, just released two new models, the Mavic Pro 2 ($1449) and the Mavic Pro 2 Zoom ($1,249.) The upgrade includes a bigger image sensor and lens made by legendary camera manufacturer Hasselblad on the Pro 2 and a small zoom lens on the Pro 2 Zoom.

The FAA recommends the B4UFly smartphone app for checking on whether it’s legal to fly in an area.

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