What every parent needs to know before buying a drone as a gift

Ebay Commercial Screen ShotThere’s a TV commercial for eBay running on national airwaves right now that features a grandmother sending her grandson a DJI Phantom 4 drone so he can be “just like his grandpa.” The TV spot markets “extraordinary gifts” for “extraordinary adventurers” by emulating extraordinary pilot grandpas. But, did you know the extraordinary adventurer (the boy) is receiving a gift that could get his parents fined $27,500 if they don’t follow federal laws about drones?  There are new FAA rules about drones this year and if you are a parent you need to know about them before buying your young adventurer a drone. Beyond the rules, it’s your responsibility as a parent to ensure that your young pilots are going to fly safely. Can you imagine the bill (and fines) if your kid crashes a drone into power lines and knocks out power in your community?

Drones are a hot gift item this year – literally flying off the shelves at retailers across the nation. Flying a drone is fun, but also comes with serious responsibility. Also known as UAV’s, UAS’s, quadcopters or rotocopters, there are dozens of varieties available for consumer purchase, from small Star Wars-themed drone games, racing and stunt drones, to expensive aircraft used by experts for stunning video filming and photography (like the DJI Phantom featured in the eBay ad). Experts predict this year will be another record-setting holiday season for drone sales. The number of drones sold in the U.S. grew 224% from April of 2015 to April of 2016, according to a report from The NPD Group’s Retail Tracking Service. The 2015 holiday season was a big driver within that period, with drone unit sales increasing 445% from the prior holiday season in 2014. According to a new report from Tractica, consumer drone sales will continue to surge over the next several years, with global annual unit shipments increasing more than tenfold from 6.4 million in 2015 to 67.9 million by 2021.

Before you buy a drone as a gift for your kids (or maybe for your hubby who’s a kid at heart) there are some important things you need to know. Numerous drones available to consumers must be registered with the FAA and it is your responsibility to follow the law, even if you’re just flying for fun. If you’re flying within the United States airspace, you need to take heed of FAA guidelines—or be prepared to face potential fines, jail time or both.

Don’t expect to open the drone and fly it right away on Christmas morning. Remember what happened in the holiday classic A Christmas Story when Ralphy tries his new air rifle on Christmas morning? Don’t let the excitement of the holiday take over your judgement; drones can require several steps to prepare for your first flight, including firmware updates, app downloads, etc. Also, certain drones must be registered with FAA before flying.

Register your drone immediately, before you fly it, and mark the aircraft with the registration number. If a drone weighs more than half a pound (.55 pounds or about 8.8 ounces), it must be registered with the FAA – even if only being used for recreation. Just like a car must be registered and issued a license plate, these drones must be registered with the FAA and the license number displayed on the aircraft ($5 fee for recreational use valid for 3 years, register online at FAA.gov). You will receive a unique registration number, and you must mark all of your drones with the unique registration number before operating (like a license plate on a car). You may use any method to affix the number, such as permanent marker, label, engraving, or other means, as long as the number is readily accessible and maintained in a condition that is readable and legible upon close visual inspection without the use of any tools. If your drone has an easily-accessible battery compartment, you can display the number in that compartment. To register you must be 13 years of age or older (if the owner is less than 13 years of age, a person 13 years of age or older must register the drone, such as a parent.). If you purchase a drone and fail to properly register it with the FAA, fines start at $27,000.

Use the free FAA app EVERY time before every flight. If your loved one is flying a drone over .55 pounds, they should download the free B4UFly app offered directly by the FAA. It’s against federal law to fly a drone for recreation within five miles of a commercial airport, but beyond big airports most people know about (LAX, Burbank, John Wayne in OC, etc.), there are hundreds of smaller airports and helipads throughout Southern California (such as at hospitals). By using the FAA app before you fly, you’re protecting yourself from fines or even jail time – or even worse, causing a tragic accident.

Know the FAA rules. There are temporary no-fly zones set by the FAA nearly every day and violating those are among the more serious, regardless if you are flying for hobby or commercial purposes (this reiterates the need for using the FAA app mentioned above). For recreational flyers it’s pretty simple: fly safe, use the B4Ufly app and follow the basic FAA guidelines. For example, you can never fly a recreational drone higher than 400 feet. Even in the middle of nowhere. Most consumer drones are pre-programmed to obey these regulations out of the box, but these built-in precautions can be easily disabled by tech-savvy kids. Don’t break this rule. Ever. Other FAA safety rules for recreational flyers include:

  • Keep your drone within sight at all times
  • Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports
  • Never fly over groups of people
  • Never fly over stadiums or sports events
  • Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires
  • Never fly under the influence
  • Be aware of airspace requirements

The FAA has a lot of additional information online, and is currently promoting this safety video for parents who buy drones this year.

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