According to the University of Hawai'i, anyone who operates a drone on any UH campus must comply with the Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

Considering purchasing a drone? First, be sure to know the rules and regulations following drone use in Hawai‘i and at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. 

Those who fly their drones for recreational purposes follow a different set of regulations than those who fly for business purposes. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, recreational drone use is “flying for enjoyment and not for work, business purposes, or for compensation or hire.” Note that the procedures outlined from here on are specifically designated for those who fly drones recreationally. 

Registering your drone

All drones heavier than 0.55 pounds must be manually registered with the FAA. Piloting an unregistered drone can lead to fines up to $27,500 for civil penalties and up to $250,000 including a possible 3-years jail time for criminal penalties. To register, you must be at least 13 years of age. If you do not meet the age requirement, a parent or guardian must register the aircraft for you. There are two methods of drone registration: online and paper mail (for drones that weigh more than 55 pounds).

For the online registration, visit faadronezone.faa.gov/#/. You will need a valid email address, a credit/debit card, and a physical address and mailing address. From there, you can register as a “modeler”.

If your drone weighs 55 pounds or greater, you must use the paper registration process. Paper application forms known as the AC Form 8050-1 can be obtained at any of the state’s Flight Standards District Offices. On O‘ahu, the office is located at 135 Nakolo Place in Honolulu. There is a mandatory $5 registration fee made payable to the FAA. However, applicants who are employed by the Federal, State or local government have their fees waived. In addition to the initial paper application, a written statement (known as an affidavit) must be included with the following information: full legal name of drone’s manufacturer, model designation, serial number, class, maximum takeoff weight, number of engines and engine type. The statement establishes the applicant’s ownership of the drone.

After submitting your application, the FAA will send you a unique 10-digit registration number and a certificate of registration via email. Be sure to carry this certificate with you whenever you pilot your drone. Furthermore, you must label your drone with the registration number, either with an engraving, permanent label or permanent marker — what matters is that the registration number is visible on the outside surface of the drone.

Do I need to get a license in order to pilot my drone?

According to the FAA, you do not need to obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate to fly your aircraft under the conditions that you are flying the drone purely for recreational purposes, following local community guidelines and the drone does not weigh more than 55 pounds.

If your drone does weigh more than 55 pounds, you must get a Remote Pilot Certificate and register as a “non-modeler” with the FAA, regardless of whether or not you are flying for recreational purposes. All non-modeler pilots must be at least 16 years of age, physically and mentally sound and pass an initial aeronautical knowledge exam. All certificates are valid for two years. The certificate test goes beyond the scope of this article, but you can find more information about how you can prepare here: faa.gov/uas/commercial_operators/become_a_drone_pilot.  

The only case in which a pilot is allowed to operate a drone without a license is if someone supervising the flight possesses a valid remote pilot license.

Where can I fly my drone?

Now that your drone is properly registered, you can begin piloting it. Please ensure that  you are following the FAA drone regulations or you may face civil and criminal penalties, resulting in fines of up to $27,500.

A general rule to keep in mind is to fly your drone at or below 400 feet. This is known as “Class G” airspace where air traffic is uncontrolled by the FAA. It is forbidden to fly in controlled airspaces, including around and above airports or heliports. If you are flying within five miles of an airport, you are required to notify the airport and all air traffic control towers. To determine what airspace you are in, refer to the mobile application that operates your drone and other drone-related technology.

Drone operators have the responsibility of ensuring they minimize the amount of harm that may be caused by drone accidents. For this reason, never fly over places where there are people, public events or stadiums. Do not interfere with emergency situations such as accident responses, firefighting or law enforcement activities. Remain at a minimum of 25 feet away from any structures and vehicles.

Take steps to ensure you remain in control of your drone by staying vigilant and keeping it within your line of sight or that of an observer who you are in direct communication with. Losing sight of your drone can result in harm to property or pedestrians. Thus, never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol where your judgement and reaction time may be impaired and avoid flying in volatile weather conditions such as high winds or reduced visibility.

Keep in mind that rules for drone use may be different for private properties, so ensure that you are adhering to their guidelines as well.

To assist drone operators with following regulations, the FAA released a mobile app called B4UFLY, which marks whether drones can fly in certain areas. It is available on the App Store and Google Play.

Drone rules on campus

Depending on where you are planning to fly your drone, it is important to follow the individual safety guidelines stipulated by the community in which you are operating your drone. For UH Mānoa, all drone operators must follow the general FAA regulations. 

As of now, UH does not have any campus-specific drone regulations. However, a drone expert manager at UH Mānoa, Joshua Levy, is looking to set a training course for students and faculty to become officially registered as pilots on campus.

“We’re trying to start up a kind of training certification process for UH students and faculty that want to use drones for research or parts of their jobs,” Levy said. “We’re building a training obstacle course that we will be able to deploy and we’ll use that in conjunction with a two-day training course. Probably twice a year, we will host an anti-crash course where students and faculty who want to fly drones and be certified with UH take this course. Then they’ll be able to rent out drones from UH and be a certified drone pilot for UH trusted to operate safely.” 

The course is planned to be released in September and although registration is currently unavailable, be on the lookout for updates on the UH website.

For now, even if certified by the FAA, drone pilots must use their own judgement to gauge the risks of flying their drones in a particular area of campus. For example, if you wanted to fly over campus center, you would have to go at a time when people are not in or around the building. As it is one of the most populated places on campus, it can be tricky to schedule a safe flight there. However, there are ways to get around that. 

“When we’ve done drone flights on campus, we leave early in the morning when there are not many people and we have a system where we walk alongside and make sure people are not standing under the path of the drone,” Levy said.

However, even if you feel you have planned a safe flight, be alert for unexpected hazards such as unpredictable weather conditions.  

“There’s a lot of variables that people who read the rules and regulations of the FAA do not know about, whether it’s illegal or just unsafe. Today, for example, it’s very dusty so in just one second, you could be going 25 miles an hour which will blow your drone way downwind and may hurt someone,” Levy said.

When in doubt, refer to the community’s official website or contact an administrator. If you are planning to fly on campus grounds, you can contact the Office of Risk Management to discuss potential risks and safety measures. Remember that the legal fines are steep should drone regulations be broken. The bottom line is to ensure you are mindful of your surroundings in order to minimize the risks. Be safe and have fun flying your drone!