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Drones and Model Airplanes



The City of South Lake Tahoe supports the safe operation of drones for recreational use and commercial purposes. Coordination is a MUST!! There are many areas around the airport that are NOT SAFE to fly drones because manned aircraft will be at low altitudes.

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) 
Do you own or operate a model airplane?  A drone?  A quadcopter? All of these are considered UAS and flying them is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).


Regulation of drones in the hands of civilian pilots took a big step forward on December 14, 2015. The Federal Aviation Administration announced that all units weighing between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds 
must be registered by February 19th, 2016 www.faa.gov/uas/registration. Anyone caught flying without proper registration after that date could face stiff penalties. The FAA says civil penalties include a fine of up to $27,500. Criminal penalties include a fine of up to $250,000 and up to three years in jail.

UAS come in a variety of shapes and sizes and serve diverse purposes. Regardless of size, the responsibility to fly safely applies equally to manned and unmanned aircraft operations.

Currently, small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) may be operated for hobby and recreational purposes under specific safety guidelines as established by Congress. Small UAS flown for recreational purposes are typically known as model aircraft and weigh less than 55 lbs.

The recreational use of sUAS is the operation of an unmanned aircraft for personal interests and enjoyment. For example, using a sUAS to take photographs for your own personal use would be considered recreational; using the same device to take photographs or videos for compensation or sale to another individual would be considered a commercial operation and fall under a separate set of regulations. You should check with the FAA for further determination as to what constitutes commercial or other non-hobby, non-recreational sUAS operations.

Model Aircraft
Under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (https://www.faa.gov/uas/media/model_aircraft_spec_rule.pdf), recreational UAS must be operated in accordance with several requirements, including a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) (http://www.modelaircraft.org/files/105.pdf). Operators not operating within the safety program of a community-based organization should follow the FAA’s guidance at Know Before You Fly.org.

Safety Guidelines
The FAA has partnered with several industry associations to promote Know Before You Fly, a campaign to educate the public about using unmanned aircraft safely and responsibly. Individuals flying for hobby or recreation are strongly encouraged to follow safety guidelines, which include:

  1. Follow community-based safety guidelines, as developed by organizations such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA).
  2. Don't fly an aircraft that weighs more than 55 lbs. (these have different regulations).
  3. Fly no higher than 400 feet and remain below any surrounding obstacles when possible.
  4. Don't fly within 5 miles of Lake Tahoe Airport unless you contact the airport and control tower (airport control tower South Lake Tahoe is non-operational) before flying.
  5. Keep your sUAS in eyesight at all times.
  6. Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations, and you must see and avoid other aircraft and obstacles at all times.
  7. Don’t fly over persons or vehicles, and remain at least 25 feet away from individuals and vulnerable property.
  8. Don’t fly in adverse weather conditions such as in high winds or reduced visibility.
  9. Don’t fly under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  10. Ensure the operating environment is safe and that the operator is competent and proficient in the operation of the sUAS.
  11. Don’t fly near or over sensitive infrastructure or property such as power stations, water treatment facilities, correctional facilities, heavily traveled roadways, government facilities, etc.
  12. Check and follow all local laws and ordinances before flying over private property.
  13. Don’t conduct surveillance or photograph persons in areas where there is an expectation of privacy without the individual’s permission (see AMA’s privacy policy).
  14. Don't fly near people or stadiums.
  15. Don't be careless or reckless with your unmanned aircraft – you could be fined for endangering people or other aircraft.

Civil or Commercial Flyers
The FAA requires you to have a 333 Exemption and the accompanying Certificate of Authorization (COA). Unless you have a specific COA that allows something different, some of the things you MUST do include:
  1. Possess an FAA issued Pilot Certificate
  2. Operate five (5) miles or more away from the Lake Tahoe Airport
  3. Operate at altitudes of 200 feet above ground or less
  4. File a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) describing your flight
  5. Maintain visual line of sight with your Drone · See and avoid manned aircraft


FAA UAS Task Force:

Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI):

FAA and Partners Education Campaign:


FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems:


FAA Videos on YouTube:


Academy of Model Aeronautics


Academy of Model Aeronautics National Model Aircraft Safety Code:


FAA 333 Exemption Guidance


FAA Drone Task Force on Registration Report

Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) Publications, Report 144, Unmanned Aircraft Systems at Airports