Drone Rules and Regulations for Austin, Texas Area Pilots

5milesfromabia-updatedThere is a growing drone user / drone pilot population here in Austin and it is with that in mind that I’ve created this page, Drone Rules and Regulations for Austin, Texas Area Pilots.

I picked up my first quadcopter in 2010 and have been flying under the OverAustin.com name since 2014. In just the last year there have been significant changes to the rules on a local and state level.

Austin is “drone friendly town” and those of us who fly regularly want to keep it that way by educating all drone pilots on the various regulations that apply to the Austin, Texas region. If you have a drone or are thinking of getting one, this page is for you.

Here I’ll provide you with a variety of reference resources, including links and downloads to Austin, Texas and Federal memos, rules and regulations. Please keep in mind that other municipalities across Texas and around the world may (and more than likely do) have their own set of rules and regulations. Also note the following three items: 1) I am not attorney. 2) This is just a summary or guide. 3) This is not comprehensive. All very important! This should get you started but everyone should do their own research.

Drones are also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs and Unmanned Aerial Systems or UASs. To keep things simple here I’ll call them drones. But if pressed, I consider my drone, which is a quadcopter, a flying camera, because that is how I use it.

If you are currently a drone pilot/owner and are based here locally or are seriously considering becoming an owner please join the Facebook group of fellow fliers: Austin Drone Pilots. The group is focused on sharing the best flight safety practices, new technologies, drone flight and camera operations best practices.

Updates:

March 23, 2017:
– University of Texas section added detailing policy 8-1070 – Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

Jan 31, 2017:
– Dec. 16 APD training memo added (replaces older training memo)
– new information on obtaining permission at state parks
– Video of the Jan 2017 Austin Drone Education and Meetup
– Drones in Austin City Parks section added
Feb 22, 2017:
– Added Robert Youens considerations for flying in a downtown environment

In Jan 2017 the leaders in the Austin drone community presented the Austin Drone Education and Fly event in Round Rock. My friend and fellow pilot Lenny Tropiano was kind enough to record the presentations. You can watch the event below. It’s two hours but well worth your time. It covers city, state and federal regulations.

 

First let’s address Austin specifically

Drones are legal in Austin
On December 16, 2016 The Austin Police Department issued the following training announcement related to the enforcement of unmanned aircraft systems (drones). Key to remember here is: There are a number of different scenarios, however, where drone operation: (1) presents a potential hazard to public safety; (2) violates private property rights or privacy interests; (3) or interferes with legitimate law enforcement operations.  1A – City of Austin DRONE TRAINING BULLETIN 12-8-16 (1). (158 kb pdf file)

Drones in City Parks – There is no ordinance against non-commercial drone flights
Drones are legal in Austin Parks if operated non-commercially. There is no city ordinance banning drone operation from city parks. This is directly from APD and the City’s attorney’s office. Because there is no ordinance, APD cannot ticket you for flying in city parks. While there is no ordinance against non-commercial drone flights many pilots receive mixed signals from the City of Austin. In some instances they say you cannot operate drones from city parks. In other instances they don’t mind. Again, there is no ordinance stating that you cannot so they cannot ticket you for doing so. If you are asked to land and leave it’s recommended that you do so and fly elsewhere or at another time. Keep in mind the everything in the paragraph above and the training memo. This information on city parks was shared in Jan 2017 at the Austin Drone Education and Fly event (video above).

cvsherman-Darrell-K-Royal-stadium-3nmSporting Events at Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium
Since Austin is the home to UT Austin, certain rules come into play whenever the Longhorn football team has a home game. This is not an Austin law but rather an FAA temporary flight restriction (TFR). A temporary flight restriction is a regulatory action that temporarily restricts certain aircraft from operating within a defined area. This one involves flights (drone and full sized aircraft) within 3 nautical miles of the stadium. By the way, 3 nautical miles = 3.45 miles, per google.  These flights are prohibited one hour before the scheduled time of the event until one hour after the time of the event. Just what does 3MN look like on a map? Click the map to the right to see. The space in green is covered by the TFR. You can read the full NOTAM (notice to airman) here. 4_3621-NOTAM-Details-sporting events.pdf (50kb pdf file)

Texas State Capitol:  The Building, The Grounds, and The Complex
Talk to Capitol DPS (Department of Public Safety) and they will tell you there are no flights allowed over Capitol Grounds. However, this is now in flux. See HB 3628 which details with the entire Capitol Complex: HB 3628 References operations of UAVs over the Texas State Capitol Complex (10kb pdf file). This Act takes effect September 1, 2015. Capitol Complex is defined by this map, according to the Texas State Preservation Board.  Nov 11, 2015 Update:  Please see my blog post here: Proposed New Rules Governing use of Unmanned Aircraft over the Capitol Grounds and Complex

Camp Mabry
This is a military base and is therefore a no-fly-zone (NFZ). A good rule of thumb, do not fly over military bases.

Fires
As I write this there is a 4,500 acre fire raging in Bastrop County. As per the standard practice, ‪ fires‬ are a no-fly-zone. Please realize that drones can impede aerial firefighting and rescue operations.

Crowds of People
Do not fly over crowds.  Please see the Drones are legal in Austin reference above.

University of Texas at Austin
UT Austin has implemented a new policy effective October 17, 2016.  8-1070 – Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The University prohibits the use of UAV on University property and off campus when conducting university-sponsored activities, except as required by law or pursuant to the authorization process provided by this policy.  Any approved use of UAV on University property or off campus must be in compliance with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations for such use. You can access the policy here.

Dams and Power Stations
Since we have both dams and power stations and they are referenced in the recently passed HB 1481 referenced below in the State of Texas section, I thought it best to bring this up here as well. Best to assume that these are both no-fly-zones. Both are referred to in HB 1481 which references critical infrastructure facilities, relating to prohibiting the operation of an unmanned aircraft over certain facilities; creating a criminal offense (in other words, give it a read :).

Circuit of The Americas
Circuit of The Americas (COTA) is home to Formula 1, MotoGP, X Games, Austin360 Amphitheater, RedFest, and more.  6 reasons not to fly at COTA track during F1 weekend:
1. Against FAA rules to fly over crowds.
2. Against Austin City rules to fly over crowds (see Drones are legal in Austin above)
3. Within the 5 mile radius of ABIA (see FAA list below)
4. Dangrous 2x – Helicopters are taking off and landing at least during F1
5. The COTA track is private property
6. ‪#‎Yourname‬ ‪#‎AustinTX‬ and ‪#‎drone‬ will trend worldwide – and not in a positive way.

Flying In Downtown Austin

Several people have asked about flying in a downtown environment. Robert Youens, owner of Camera Wings, was kind enough to allow me to repost his safety considerations pilots should consider before flying in a downtown environment.

Unfortunately everyone does not recognize the potential problems flying “in” town. This includes the fact that the FAA that will issue a PART 107 without requiring knowledge of many of the items listed below. They issue registrations and certifications with no proof that a pilot can fly.

Some would say the CBO provisions along with the AMA Safety Code would limit a Part 101 pilot from flying downtown. I have reviewed the AMA safety code and could interpret it that it would not allow “in” town… but I could also interpret it in a way that would allow it.

Part 107 is not tied to a CBO and if all requirements are met, flying “in” town appears to be within the limitations of a Part 107 Certificated Pilot.

1. Lots of bad stuff can happen. There is a big difference between flying “in” downtown or around downtown.
2. When flying “in” town multipathing of GPS signals can result in your aircraft flying into a building without notice. The ability to take over in attitude mode in a fraction of a second and recover is essential. In many of our more challenging jobs at Camera Wings Aerial Photography we do not fly GPS Mode… the entire flight is done in Attitude Mode. The pilot is only responsible for flying and never takes his eye off the aircraft, a camera operator manages the camera.
3. You should know to check K-Index to assure GPS is reliable before flying in town.
4. You should be knowledgeable of all RF sources that can impact the control of your aircraft, both remote and GPS and avoid them.
5. You should limit flying “in” town to time frames when there are few or no people on the streets. There should also be few or no cars moving.
6. You should have a complete understanding of comprehensive acceleration of air around buildings and the impact that it can have on the flight of your aircraft.
7. You should have a complete understanding of all variable that can break the control signal of your aircraft and how your aircraft will react and you should know how to quickly respond/react appropriately. You should set up your aircraft to respond to loss of signal in the best way possible for a downtown situation.
8. You should understand everything in a downtown environment that can impact your magnetometer and how to avoid them and how to deal with it if you get in a bind.
9. You should understand how relative position between the pilot and aircraft impact signal strength and how relative RF polarity impacts signal strength.
10. I have spent a lot of time researching all of the above and how to mitigate risk. I have consulted Electrical Engineers, Licensed HAM Operators, Physicist and a slew of remote aviation specialist both military and civilian. I do not fly “in” town for fun. I fly “in” downtown only when someone is paying me a lot to be there and will give me adequate time to asses all the risk factors.

Now let’s talk about the State of Texas

The following are Texas laws that are relevant to drones. I refer back to #1 above: I am not attorney. Therefore I will not be analyzing these or discussing them in, but simply providing them to you for reference. You should download and review them.

HB 912 – This Act shall be known as the Texas Privacy Act (50 kb pdf file)
HB 2167 – References scholarly research and development (12kb pdf file) – This Act takes effect September 1, 2015.
HB 1481 – References critical infrastructure facilities (13kb pdf file) – This Act takes effect September 1, 2015.
HB 3628 – References operations of UAVs over the Texas State Capitol Complex (10kb pdf file) – This Act takes effect September 1, 2015. Capitol Complex is defined by this map, according to the Texas State Preservation Board.

Texas State Parks

All takeoffs and landings within a Texas State Park must be authorized, according to the memo below. Unauthorized launches, landings or operation shall be considered an offense under 31 TAC 59.132(a).  Please see the March 24, 2015 memo for reference:  Texas-Parks-Wildlife-Office-Memorandum.  Update 1/30/2017: Each individual state park superintendent can, at his choosing, allow drone flights in that state park. I was granted such permission on Thanksgiving day 2015 in Big Band Ranch State Park. I have not attempted to request permission to fly at other parks since that time.

FAA and Federal Air Regulations

There are many resources for FAA and FARs on the Internet. I will not attempt to discuss them here.

Online Community of Austin Pilots

Austin Drones
Please join the Facebook group of fellow Austin fliers: Austin Drone Pilots. The group is focused on sharing the best flight safety practices, new technologies, drone flight and camera operations best practices.

 

 

Have feedback regarding this page? Please email me at chris@overaustin.com