Drone Laws in North Carolina

Agencies Responsible for regulating drones in the State of North Carolina

Federal Aviation Administration

FAA Drone Website: https://www.faa.gov/uas/


UAS Laws – General rules for flying drones in North Carolina

Drone operation in North Carolina is broadly governed by The Federal USA agency responsible for drone safety, the FAA. Click here for details on FAA USA Drone Laws.

In addition, the North Carolina state legislature has enacted several supplemental rules specific to North Carolina drone operations. The highlights are enumerated below.

Are drones allowed in North Carolina?

Drones are allowed in North Carolina for recreational and commercial use, subject to FAA regulations and flight controls put in place by local governments. Read on for details.

Specific additional drone use laws by the State of North Carolina legislature

Senate Bill SB 744 (2014)

This state law establishes regulations and guidelines for recreational, commercial, and government drone operations in North Carolina.

Recreational Drone Operators

The state’s Division of Aviation does not stipulate a special permit or license for recreational or hobby drone operators to fly their models. Conversely, hobbyists are still bound by the rules and regulations as set out by North Carolina for UAS use.

Commercial Drone Operators

Commercial drone operators are obliged to carry a valid North Carolina UAS Commercial Operators Permit. This requirement is for all pilots who operate under 14 CFR Part 107 (small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)). Only commercial drone pilots who have passed NCDOT’s UAS Knowledge Test can apply for a State Permit.

Moreover, commercial drone operators need to show proof of their current Remote Pilot Certificate to conduct commercial UAV undertakings.

Government Drone Operators

North Carolina government drone pilots must pass the NCDOT’s UAS Knowledge Test before they can apply for a State Permit. Both commercial and government drone pilots must agree to the terms and conditions for operating a UAS/Drone in NC.

15A-300.1​ ​Restrictions on use of UAS
General Prohibitions​. – No person, entity, or State agency shall use an unmanned aircraft system to do any of the following:
Conduct surveillance of:

  1. A person or a dwelling occupied by a person and that dwelling’s curtilage without the person’s consent.
  2. Private real property without the consent of the owner, easement holder, or lessee of the property.

Photograph an individual, without the individual’s consent, for the purpose of publishing or otherwise publicly disseminating the photograph. This subdivision shall not apply to newsgathering, newsworthy events, or events or places to which the general public is invited.

Law Enforcement Exceptions​. – The use of unmanned aircraft systems by law enforcement agencies of the State or a political subdivision of the State is not prohibited in the following instances:

  1. To counter a high risk of a terrorist attack by a specific individual or organization if the United States Secretary of Homeland Security or the Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety determines that credible intelligence indicates that such a risk exists.
  2. To conduct surveillance in an area that is within a law enforcement officer’s plain view when the officer is in a location the officer has a legal right to be.
  3. If the law enforcement agency first obtains a search warrant authorizing the use of an unmanned aircraft system.
  4. If the law enforcement agency possesses reasonable suspicion that, under particular circumstances, swift action is needed to prevent imminent danger to life or serious damage to property, to forestall the imminent escape of a suspect or the destruction of evidence, to conduct pursuit of an escapee or suspect, or to facilitate the search for a missing person.
  5. To photograph gatherings to which the general public is invited on public or private land.

15A-300.2​ ​Regulation of launch and recovery sites

  1. No unmanned aircraft system may be launched or recovered from any State or privateproperty without consent.
  2. A unit of local government may adopt an ordinance to regulate the use of the localgovernment’s property for the launch or recovery of unmanned aircraft systems. (2014-100, s. 34.30(a).)
    (This includes ​state parks​ – North Carolina administrative code 13B.1204 prohibits drones from ascending or taking-off within or upon any state park area or state park water surface. UAS may be operated after obtaining a ​special activity permit​ from the Park.)

15A-300.3​ ​Use of an unmanned aircraft system near confinement or correctional facility prohibited
Prohibition​. – No person, entity, or State agency shall use an unmanned aircraft system within either a horizontal distance of 500 feet, or a vertical distance of 250 feet from any local confinement facility, as defined in G.S. 153A-217, or State or federal correctional facility. 

Penalty​. – The following penalties apply for violations of this section:

  1. A person who uses an unmanned aircraft system (i) in violation of subsection (a) of this section or (ii) pursuant to an exception in subsection (b) of this section and who delivers, or attempts to deliver, a weapon to a local confinement facility or State or federal correctional facility is guilty of a Class H felony, which shall include a fine of one thousand five hundred dollars ($1,500). For purposes of this subdivision, the term “weapon” is as defined in G.S. 14-401.24(c).
  2. A person who uses an unmanned aircraft system (i) in violation of subsection (a) of this section or (ii) pursuant to an exception in subsection (b) of this section and who delivers, or attempts to deliver, contraband to a local confinement facility or State or federal correctional facility is guilty of a Class I felony, which shall include a fine of one thousand dollars ($1,000). For purposes of this subdivision, the term “contraband” includes controlled substances, as defined in G.S. 90-87, cigarettes, alcohol, and communication devices, but does not include weapons.
  3. A person who uses an unmanned aircraft system in violation of subsection (a) of this section for any other purpose is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor, which shall include a fine of five hundred dollars ($500.00).

14-7.45​ ​Crimes committed by use of UAS
All crimes committed by use of an unmanned aircraft system, as defined in ​G.S.15A- 300.1​, while in flight over this State shall be governed by the laws of this State, and the question of whether the conduct by an unmanned aircraft system while in flight over this State constitutes a crime by the owner of the unmanned aircraft system shall be determined by the laws of this State.

14.280.3​ ​Interference with manned aircraft by UAS
Class H felony to any person who willfully damages, disrupts the operation of, or otherwise interferes with a manned aircraft through the use of an unmanned aircraft system, while the manned aircraft is taking off, landing, in flight, or otherwise in motion.

14.401.24​ ​Unlawful possession and use of UAS (Weapon attached)
It shall be a Class E felony for any person to possess or use an unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system that has a weapon attached.

It is a Class 1 misdemeanor to fish or to hunt using an unmanned aircraft system.

It is a Class A1 misdemeanor to publish or disseminate images taken through the use of infrared or other thermal imaging technology attached to an unmanned aircraft system revealing individuals, materials, or activities inside of a structure without the consent of the property owner.

Specific additional UAV laws by local governments within North Carolina

Town of Beech Mountain | Municipal Ordinance // 2017

Town ordinance No. 2017 prohibits drone operations from all town-owned property without official written permission, granted by the Town Manager or designee. Banned areas exist to maintain public safety, including common regions and public vehicular areas.

Town of Chapel Hill | Municipal Ordinance

This town ordinance is all about safety first. It exists so that local authorities can enforce current drone regulations set by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

City of Kannapolis | Municipal Law

This city ordinance prohibits operating unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), including drones and other types of flying machines, in all city parks. The only exception is for those granted special permission from the city manager.

UAS operation rules in Parks, Recreation and Cultural Preserves

NCAC 13B .1204 (2018)

This administrative code prohibits the take-off, ascending, and recovery of any airplane from all state parks and state park waters. That includes drones, as well as all other types of UAS and flying contraptions. The only exception is those who have a permit to operate at Jockey’s Ridge State Park or a Special Activity Permit to fly, issued by the park authority.

Gaston County | Parks & Recreation Drone Policy

This county policy bans all drone operations from Gaston County Park. Exceptions are available for pilots with a special permit (written license) by the department. Otherwise, drone operations are restricted to the special use facility located at Lewis Brooks Airfield, Bessemer City.

City of Raleigh | Parks, Recreation, & Cultural Resources Drone Policy

This city policy sets out the parks, recreational spaces, and cultural areas that allow/disallow drone operations. Current UAS bans include the following:

  1. Nature preserves
  2. Nature parks
  3. Wetland centers
  4. Cemeteries (graveyards)
  5. City lakes


Six parks have designated areas for recreational drone use between dawn and dusk.

  1. Baileywick Park
  2. Eastgate Park
  3. Spring Forest Park
  4. Marsh Creek Park
  5. Dorothea Dix Park
  6. Southgate Park

Specific additional UAV laws laws in Jurisdictions within North Carolina

Counties or towns within North Carolina may have specific restrictions within their jurisdictions. We recommend checking the local jurisdiction for the latest regulations.


Notes for recreational drone pilots flying for fun in North Carolina

If you have a small drone that is less than 55 pounds, you can fly recreationally by following the Drone Laws in the USA defined by FAA Part 107 guidelines.

Recreational UAS operations (i.e., flying for recreational purposes) in North Carolina are approved under Federal law, specifically the FAA Part 107. Please check the specific state jurisdiction for additional permissions, licensing, or clearance requirements.

Following these rules will keep you and your drone safe and will help keep the airspace available to everyone.

  1. Fly only for recreational purposes (enjoyment). 
  2. Follow the safety guidelines of an FAA-recognized Community Based Organization (CBO). Note: We have not yet begun officially recognizing CBOs. Recreational flyers should follow the safety guidelines of existing aeromodelling organizations or use the FAA-provided safety guidelines per Advisory Circular 91-57B.
  3. Keep your drone within the visual line of sight or use a co-located visual observer (physically next to) and in direct communication with you.
  4. Give way to and do not interfere with crewed aircraft.
  5. Fly at or below 400′ in controlled airspace (Class B, C, D, and E) with prior authorization by using LAANC or DroneZone.
  6. Fly at or below 400 feet in Class G (uncontrolled) airspace. Note: Drone flights may be prohibited in certain airspace or may require FAA authorization. A drone pilot can find navigable airspace, other Classes of airspace, and flying restrictions on our B4UFLY app or the UAS Facility Maps webpage.
  7. Take The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) and carry proof of test passage.
  8. Have a current registrationmark (PDF) your drones on the outside with the registration number, and carry proof of registration with you.
  9. Do not dangerously operate your drone. For example:
    • Do not interfere with emergency response or law enforcement activities.
    • Do not fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
    • Avoid flying near or over critical infrastructure.

Recreational drone pilots should know that if they intentionally violate any of these safety requirements and/or operate their drone flight carelessly or recklessly, they could be liable for criminal and/or civil penalties.


Notes for Commercial Drone Services operations in North Carolina

If you have a small unmanned aircraft that is less than 55 pounds, you can fly for work or business by following the Drone Laws in the USA defined by FAA Part 107 guidelines.

Commercial drone operations in North Carolina are approved under the FAA Part 107. Please check the specific state jurisdiction for additional permissions, licensing, or clearance requirements.

There are three main steps drone owners must follow To fly under Part 107 rules:

Step 1: Learn the Rules

  1. Make sure you understand what is and is not allowed under Part 107 rules. Review a summary of the Part 107 rules (PDF). Still unsure if Part 107 rules work for you and your intended UAS operation? Check the FAA user identification tool.
  2. Some operations are not covered by Part 107 and will require a waiver. Here are some common examples of Part 107 sections that are subject to waiver:
    • Operation from a moving vehicle or aircraft (§ 107.25) *
    • Daylight operation (§ 107.29)
    • Visual line of sight aircraft operation (§ 107.31) *
    • Visual observer (§ 107.33)
    • Operation of multiple small unmanned aircraft systems (§ 107.35)
    • Yielding the right of way (§ 107.37(a))
    • Operation over people (§ 107.39)
    • Operation in certain airspace (§ 107.41)
    • Operating limitations for small unmanned aircraft (§ 107.51) 
    • *The FAA will not waive this section to allow the carriage of property of another by aircraft for compensation or hire.
    • If your operation will require a waiver, read about the Part 107 Waiver application process.
  3. Commercial Drone Pilots should avoid flying near airports because it is difficult for manned aircraft to see and avoid a drone while flying. Remember that the UAS operator must avoid crewed aircraft and are responsible for any safety hazard their drone creates in an airport environment. Read more about flying near airports.

Step 2: Become an FAA-Certified Drone Pilot by Passing the Knowledge Test

  1. To be eligible to get your Remote Pilot Certificate, you must be:
    • At least 16 years old
    • Able to read, write, speak, and understand English
    • Be in a physical and mental condition to safely fly a UAS
  2. Review the entire process to get your Remote Pilot Certificate.
  3. Study for the Knowledge Test by reviewing the Test Prep materials provided by the FAA.
  4. Obtain an FAA Tracking Number (FTN) by creating an Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) profile before registering for a knowledge test.
  5. Schedule an appointment to take the Knowledge Test at an FAA-approved Knowledge Testing Center.
  6. Once you’ve passed your test, complete FAA Form 8710-13 for a remote pilot certificate (FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application) using the electronic FAA Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application system (IACRA)*
  7. You are now eligible to operate as a commercial drone pilot

Step 3: Register your drone with the FAA

  • Registration costs $5 and is valid for three years. You’ll need a credit or debit card and the make and model of your drone handy to register.
  • Visit dronezone.faa.gov and select “Fly sUAS under Part 107” to create an account and register your drone.
  • Once you’ve registered, mark your drone (PDF) with your registration number if it gets lost or stolen.

Commercial rules in Parks, Recreation and Cultural reserves

We suggest you contact the local parks agencies and check for specific permissions required.


Useful published information on flying drones in North Carolina

We have partnered with the FAA and other drone enthusiasts in supporting an internet educational campaign called Know Before You Fly. The tips, pointers, and resources apply to North Carolina Drone Users also. Please visit the site for additional information: Know Before You Fly

Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International – Mostly for commercial drone service providers and users.

Academy of Model Aeronautics – Mostly for hobbyists

NOTE: Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (SUAS), Small UAS, Remote Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS), unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), Unmanned Aerial System (UAS), and drone are interchangeable terms unless specified. Model aircraft, toy aircraft, Remote controlled aircraft, and RC aircraft may be covered by the same regulations unless specified.


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IMPORTANT NOTE

The content on this site is collated by volunteers from public general information. This material is not presented as legal advice of any kind, and we cannot guarantee that the information is accurate, complete, or up-to-date. Do not substitute the information you find here for legal advice from a licensed attorney who is authorized to practice in the jurisdiction. When in doubt, contact the local aviation authority responsible for drone safety, utilize a licensed drone service operator, and/or consult a qualified attorney.

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