Agencies Responsible for regulating drones in San Francisco
Federal Aviation Administration
FAA Drone Website: https://www.faa.gov/uas/
California State Laws – Text Search of California Laws
UAS Laws – General rules for flying drones in San Francisco
Drone operation in San Francisco is broadly governed by The Federal USA agency responsible for drone safety, the FAA. Click here for details on FAA USA Drone Laws
The CA State and San Francisco legislatures have enacted several supplemental rules specific to San Francisco drone operations. Click here for details on CA State Drone Laws.
The highlights of San Francisco UAS regulations are enumerated below.
Can you fly a drone in San Francisco?
Drones are allowed in San Francisco for recreational and commercial use, subject to FAA regulations and flight controls put in place by local governments. Read on for details.
Specific additional San Francisco Drone Laws
San Francisco Park Code Sec. 3.09 (1981)
This code prohibits drone operations in San Francisco’s metropolis parks without prior permission of the Recreation & Park Department.
Currently, the National Park Service (NPS) prohibits drones at national parks which include the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Mateo, San Francisco, and Marin counties; Rosie the Riveter grounds in East Bay, Fort Point, Presidio, Alcatraz Island, and the Maritime in San Francisco as well as Point Reyes and Muir Woods in North Bay.
Changes Coming in the Future
California State Legislature has taken up and is considering a number of proposed bills. We highly recommend checking with the local jurisdiction for the latest information.
What you must know about San Francisco No Fly Zones or No Drone Zones
You need to know if you can operate your drone, under what limitations, whether authorizations are required, and how to get those authorizations.
We encourage you to read our explainer for more details on this topic here: Explainer – What You Must Know About No Fly Zones or No Drone Zones
How do I check for no-fly zones, no-drone zones, and uncontrolled or controlled airspace in San Francisco?
The FAA has partnered with Aloft to develop the B4UFLY mobile app, which can tell you if there are any airspace restrictions where you want to fly.
If you are looking for a drone no fly zone map then B4UFLY is a good place to start.
The app provides situational awareness to recreational flyers and other drone users. However, it does not allow users to obtain airspace authorizations to fly in controlled airspace, only available through the FAA’s Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC).
The B4UFLY app is available to download for free:
B4UFLY at the App Store for iOS: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/b4ufly-drone-airspace-safety/id992427109
B4UFLY at the Google Play store for Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=gov.faa.b4ufly2&hl=en_US&gl=US
B4UFLY is also available as a desktop version for preflight planning and research. https://b4ufly.aloft.ai/ (“B4UFLY App | Federal Aviation Administration”)
How do I get authorization to fly in controlled airspace in San Francisco?
Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC), which is run by the FAA, is the only way to get permission to fly in controlled airspace.
LAANC is available to pilots operating under the Small UAS Rule Part 107 or under the exception for Recreational Flyers.
You can get access through one of the FAA Approved LAANC UAS Service Suppliers. Some providers have apps that can be used to apply for approval in near-real time.
There are two ways to use LAANC:
- Submit a near real-time authorization request for operations under 400 feet in controlled airspace around airports (available to Part 107 Pilots and Recreational Flyers).
- Submit a “further coordination request” if you need to fly above the designated altitude ceiling in a UASFacility Map, up to 400 feet.
- You can apply up to 90 days before a flight, and the approval is coordinated manually through the FAA (available to Part 107 pilots only).
LAANC is available at 726 airports. If you want to fly in controlled airspace near airports not offering LAANC, you can use the manual process to apply for authorization.
Notes for recreational drone pilots flying for fun in San Francisco
If you have a small drone of less than 55 pounds, you can fly recreationally by following Drone Laws in the USA defined by 49 USC 44809. However, San Francisco has specific restrictions listed below.
In San Francisco, recreational UAS operations (i.e., flying for recreational purposes) are approved under law, specifically 49 USC 44809, but restricted in San Francisco as per local rules. Please check the specific city and state jurisdiction for additional permissions, licensing, or clearance requirements.
Following these rules will keep you and your drone safe and help keep the airspace available to everyone.
The law requires that all recreational flyers pass an aeronautical knowledge and safety test and provide proof of passage if asked by law enforcement or FAA personnel. The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) was developed to meet this requirement.
TRUST provides education and testing on important safety and regulatory information. If you fly your drone recreationally under the Exception for Recreational Flyers, you must pass the test before you fly.
Note: If your drone weighs more than .55 pounds (lbs), you must register your drone through the FAA‘s Drone Zone.
For a complete discussion on drone registration, see our Drone Registration Explainer.
To fly your drone as a recreational flyer, it’s as easy as 1-2-3
- Understand recreational flying requirements
- Note: Non-recreational drone flying includes things like taking photos to help sell a property or service, doing roof inspections, or taking pictures of a high school football game for the school’s website. Goodwill can also be considered non-recreational. This would include volunteering to use your drone to survey coastlines on behalf of a non-profit organization. If you’re unsure which rules apply to your flight, fly under Part 107 (See below).
- Visit the Recreational Flyers page to learn about the rules for recreational flyers.
- Download the FAA’s B4UFLY mobile app for more recreational drone flying resources.
- Take TRUST
- You may take the free online test through any of the FAA-approved test administrators.
- All FAA-approved TRUST test administrators offer the test free.
- All test questions are correctable to 100% prior to issuing your completion certificate.
- After completing TRUST, you’ll need to download, save or print your completion certificate.
- If you lose your certificate, you will need to retake TRUST.
- View a list of TRUST Test Administrators
- Receive your certificate
- After you pass the test, you will receive a certificate from the test administrator you selected.
- Test administrators will not keep a record of your certificate. If law enforcement officers ask, you must present a copy of your certificate.
General Rules for Recreational Flyers
The Exception for Limited Recreational Operations of Unmanned Aircraft (USC 44809) is the law that describes how, when, and where you can fly drones for recreational purposes. Following these rules helps keep people, your drone, and our airspace safe:
- Fly only for recreational purposes (personal enjoyment).
- Follow the safety guidelines of an FAA-recognized Community-Based Organization (CBO).
For more information on how to become an FAA-recognized CBO, read Advisory Circular 91-57C.
- Keep your drone within the visual line of sight, or use a visual observer who is co-located (physically next to) and in direct communication with you.
- Give way to and do not interfere with other aircraft.
- Fly at or below FAA-authorized altitudes in controlled airspace (Class B, C, D, and surface Class E designated for an airport) only with prior FAA authorization by using LAANC or DroneZone.
- Fly at or below 400 feet in Class G (uncontrolled) airspace.
Note: Flying drones in restricted airspace is not allowed. Drone pilots should always check for airspace restrictions prior to flight on our B4UFLY app or the UAS Facility Maps webpage.
- Take The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) and carry proof of test passage when flying.
- Have a current FAA registration, mark (PDF) your drones on the outside with the registration number, and carry proof of registration when flying.
Note: Beginning September 16, 2023, if your drone requires an FAA registration number, it will also be required to broadcast Remote ID information.
- Do not operate your drone in a manner that endangers the safety of the national airspace system.
Recreational drone pilots should know that if they violate these safety requirements and/or operate their drone flight carelessly or recklessly, they could be liable for criminal and/or civil penalties.
You do not need a drone license if your drone use is recreational and falls within the scope of 44809. However, to fly your drone commercially or under the FAA’s Small UAS Rule (Part 107), you must first obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate (RPC), also known as a drone license or a Part 107 certificate. You may want to get your drone license for the flexibility it allows in your drone flights.
For more details on drone licensing, please see our Drone License Explainer.
Hobbyist rules in California Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
Drones in State Wilderness Areas, Natural Preserves, and Cultural Preserves:
State Park regulations prohibit the use of motorized equipment (including UASs) within wilderness areas, cultural preserves, and natural preserves (Cal. Code Regs. tit. 14, § 4351.) Therefore, drone users should always check the designation of the park unit before operating a drone.
California State Parks recommends that recreational drone users check with their local State Park District before operating a UAS within a State Park. Each park unit may have its own posted orders. Even absent a posted order on drones, it is within the discretion of park staff to contact drone operators when drones threaten visitors, property, wildlife, or privacy. If a drone operator continues to fly in a dangerous or reckless manner, they may be asked to stop flying and remove the drone from park boundaries.
Notes for operating Commercial Drone Services in San Francisco
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, however, San Francisco Drone Laws have specific restrictions listed below.
Commercial drone operations in CA State are approved under the FAA Part 107 but restricted in San Francisco as per local rules. Please check the specific state jurisdiction for additional permissions, licensing, or clearance requirements.
For a complete review of the FAA Part 107 regulation please see our comprehensive FAA 107 Explainer.
Note: The Operations Over People rule became effective on April 21, 2021. Drone pilots operating under Part 107 may fly at night, over people and moving vehicles without a waiver as long as they meet the requirements defined in the rule. Airspace authorizations are still required for night operations in controlled airspace under 400 feet.
If you have a small drone of fewer than 55 pounds, you can fly for work or business by following the Part 107 guidelines. To fly under Part 107 rules, there are three main steps.
Step 1: Learn the Rules
Ensure you understand what is and is not allowed under Part 107 rules.
If you are unsure if Part 107 rules work for you and your intended operation, check our user identification tool.
Some operations will require a waiver. Here are the regulations specified in §107.205 that are subject to waiver:
- Operation from a moving vehicle or aircraft – §107.25
- Operation at Night – §107.29(a)(2) and (b)
- 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 human beings – §107.39
- Operation in certain airspace – §107.41
- Operating limitations for small unmanned aircraft – §107.51
- Operations Over Moving Vehicles – §107.145
Learn more about Part 107 Waivers.
Drone operators should avoid flying near airports because it is difficult for crewed aircraft to see and avoid a drone while flying. Remember that the drone operator must avoid manned aircraft and are responsible for any safety hazard their drone creates in an airport environment.
Step 2: Become an FAA-Certified Drone Pilot by Passing the Knowledge Test
For more details on drone licensing, please see our Drone License Explainer.
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
Study for the Knowledge Test
- Review Knowledge Test Suggested Study Materials provided by the FAA.
Obtain an FAA Tracking Number (FTN)
- Create an Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) profile before registering for the knowledge test.
Schedule an Appointment
- Take the Knowledge Test at an FAA-approved Knowledge Testing Center.
Complete FAA Form 8710-13
- Once you’ve passed your test for a remote pilot certificate (FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application), log in to the FAA Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application system (IACRA)* to complete FAA form 8710-13.
- Review the entire process to get your Remote Pilot Certificate.
Step 3: Register your Drone with the FAA
For a complete discussion on drone registration, see our Drone Registration Explainer.
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 in order to register. Learn more about registering your drone.
- Create an account and register your drone at FAADroneZone. Select “Fly sUAS under Part 107.”
- Once you’ve registered, mark your drone (PDF) with your registration number in case it gets lost or stolen.
Commercial rules in Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
The FAA requires commercial drone operators to receive special authorization; either a Section 333 Exemption or a Special Airworthiness Certificate. The FAA defines commercial drone use as, among other things: filming for hire; selling aerial photography or videography; inspections for hire; surveying for hire, or flying to further a business purpose. Operating a drone for commercial purposes within a state park also requires a permit. Commercial Drone users must submit a copy of their FAA authorization to the appropriate State Park District(s). Depending on the proposed use, the District Superintendent may require a Special Event permit, Right of Entry permit, or other approval. Further, commercial photography or filming within State Park also requires a permit from the California Film Commission. (Cal. Code Regs. tit. 14, § 4316.)
Drones may prove a valuable tool for scientific research and surveys. The operation of a drone for research purposes requires approval from the FAA. Before operating a drone for research purposes within a state park, please submit a copy of your FAA authorization to the appropriate State Park District(s). California State Parks requires a scientific collection permit (DPR 65) for any scientific research and surveys within a State Park.
Public Agency Drones:
The FAA requires public entities to obtain a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) to operate public aircraft. Before operating a drone for governmental purposes within a state park, please submit a copy of your COA to the appropriate State Park District(s).
Useful published information on flying drones in San Francisco
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 San Francisco 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, remote-controlled, and RC aircraft may be covered by the same regulations unless specified.
Find out why we think you must use a Drone Preflight Checklist and a Drone Post-flight checklist
Free Drone Flight Checklist PDF
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It includes both the preflight checklist and post-flight checklist
It’s an easy to use printable pdf that covers all your bases.
Traveling with a Drone?
Click here to read our Comprehensive Guide For Traveling With A Drone.
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