Can a Felon Get a Drone License?

Drones are unmanned aviation vehicles, which are remotely controlled by their users. Since the introduction of drones into the commercial marketplace, drones have grown more powerful. Drones are used in an increasingly wide array of functions, both recreationally and commercially. Drones also attract a variety of people who purchase and use them, from enthusiasts who simply want to experience the pleasure of flying, to mechanics and programmers who are interested in the design and modification of drones.

Their diversity of uses may make them attractive to felons upon their release from prison. This might be as a hobby that allows them to explore the world from above, as well as the machinery, programming and aeronautics of drones. They may also want to explore the use of drones for their commercial purposes in photography, broadcasting, and other uses.

Prior to purchasing and flying your drone, consider its intended use, your budget, and what you need in order to fly safely and legally.

Drone Registration and Operation

All drones are required by law to be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), whether you intend to fly as a hobbyist or for commercial purposes. The FAA website has a useful section that provides information on how to register, airspace in which drones are allowed to operate, and other bylaws and tips to ensure that drone operators are aware of all relevant regulations.

Registration fees are only $5, and are valid for three years. After registering your drone and paying the fee, the FAA provides you with a registration card that must be presented to any law enforcement or FAA officials at their request. Drones must also be labeled with their identification number. Stickers are provided by the FAA.

Recreational drone users must also follow any local community guidelines on drone flight, in addition to federal regulations. Federal rules include not interfering with commercial aircraft, not exceeding 400 feet in altitude, and avoiding emergencies and large groups of people. Using a drone under the influence of drugs or alcohol is also prohibited by law.

Your drone should also be under 55 pounds in weight, and you must register as what the FAA designates as a ‘modeler.’ The minimum age for this designation is 13.

Depending upon local city regulations, recreational drone users can be found in public parks, the beach, or other outdoor recreational use areas, such as hiking trails or aquatic zones.

Regulations For Commercial Drone Use

If the drone user wishes to use their aircraft for commercial purposes, they must complete all of the above requirements for recreational use. Their drone must be above .55 pounds and below 55 in weight. The minimum age to obtain a license for commercial flight is 16.

The FAA requires that commercial users obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate in order to operate their aircraft legally. This certificate is earned, in part, through passing a test at an FAA-approved knowledge center. Locations can be found on the FAA website. The FAA provides study materials for the exam, and many drone organizations also hold classes and seminars to help pilots to pass the assessment.

The examination costs $150, consists of 60 questions, and requires test-takers to answer 70% or more of the questions correctly. Any non-FAA test preparation courses or classes will add to the cost of the process. Drone registration costs ($5) also still apply.

Opportunities For Commercial Drone Pilots

Commercial drone operators often use their craft with film and photography equipment to produce high quality aerial footage. Their material can then be sold to a range of media outlets, including magazines, websites, television stations, or television shows and movies. Delivery and shipping is also growing in popularity, and will likely continue to do so. Drones can also be used for scientific research. Atmospheric measurements, remote landscape observation, and the monitoring and tracking of animal species are a few ways that drones can be valuable to scientists.

Remote Pilot license holders can also contract with the government or military to perform operations in disaster response, military base observation, and even espionage and combat. Drones attained a certain level of notoriety for their role in the war on terror in gathering intelligence and carrying out attacks on remote targets.

Few Regulations And Laws Against Felons

For felons, recreational drone use is largely unrestricted. While not directly profitable, drone users can still find enjoyment and community in their new hobby. Many drone clubs exist in cities across the United States, and within those clubs, users can share information, tips, and participate in shared activities.

Drone racing has also grown in popularity in recent years, in which pilots set up indoor or outdoor course to race their aircraft through. These are highly competitive events, often paying out cash prizes. Racers pilot drones of different weight and performance classes, and often enjoy the modification and engineering of their drones as much as the racing itself.

For commercial pilots, the FAA does conduct background checks prior to issuing Remote Pilot certificates. There are no restrictions for felons in most organizations that provide classes and seminars for test preparation. Often, a conviction more than a year prior to application or testing will not be closely scrutinized. The screening process can last up to 8 weeks, however, so the FAA does take their background check seriously.

A primary motive for this is to prevent potential terrorists from obtaining a license and using their drone for destructive purposes. Those with prior aviation violations may also flag the FAA system and be prohibited from obtaining a drone license.

Drone pilots find many aspects of their hobby to rewarding, including the flight, photography, mechanics, and social nature of the activity. For a felon looking for a way to spend their time recreationally, or even commercially, and provide a constructive outlet for their talents and interests, becoming a drone pilot might be an ideal activity.

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