Drone Laws in Tennessee

Agencies Responsible for regulating drones in Tennessee

Federal Aviation Administration

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

Tennessee State Laws – Tennessee State Code 2019


UAS Laws – General rules for flying drones in TN

Drone operation in Tennessee 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 Tennessee State legislature has enacted several supplemental rules specific to Tennessee drone operations. The highlights are enumerated below. For more details go to the links above and search for unmanned aircraft.

Are drones allowed in Tennessee?

Drones are allowed in Tennessee 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 Tennessee State legislature

Tennessee Statute Definition of Unmanned Aerial System (UAS)

Definitions:
The Tennessee Freedom from Unwanted Surveillance Act defines a “​drone​” as “a powered, aerial vehicle” that:

  1. does not carry a human operator and cannot be operated by a human from within or on the aircraft;
  2. uses aerodynamic forces for lift;
  3. can be piloted remotely or fly autonomously;
  4. can be recoverable or expendable.

“​Law enforcement agency​” refers to an agency that is responsible for preventing and detecting crime, for enforcing local government code, and for enforcing “penal, traffic, regulatory, game, or controlled substance laws.”

“​Critical infrastructure facility​” means:

  1. An electrical power generation system; electrical transmission system, either as a wholesystem or any individual component of the transmission system; or electrical distributionsubstation;
  2. A petroleum refinery;
  3. A manufacturing facility that utilizes any hazardous substance, as defined in §68-131-102, either in storage or in the process of manufacturing;
  4. A chemical or rubber manufacturing facility;
  5. A petroleum or chemical storage facility;
  6. A water or wastewater treatment facility;
  7. Any facility, equipment, or pipeline infrastructure utilized in the storage, transmission, ordistribution of natural gas or propane; and
  8. Railroad yards and facilities not open to the general public;

Senate Bill SB 2106 (2016)

This law prohibits flying UAVs to conduct surveillance, i.e., to unlawfully gather evidence, or collect information, within 250ft of Tennessee’s critical infrastructure facilities. Critical infrastructure facilities include petroleum refineries, electrical power generation systems, certain chemical manufacturing and or storage facilities, and rubber manufacturing plants, etc.

The statute generally prohibits drone use by a law enforcement agency to gather evidence or other information. Following the general prohibition, the statute prescribes exceptions by which drone use is permissible.

The statute allows the use of a drone in these circumstances:

  1. to counter a high risk of a terrorist attack by a specific individual or organization if theUnited States secretary of homeland security determines that credible intelligenceindicates that there is such a risk;
  2. if the law enforcement agency first obtains a search warrant signed by a judgeauthorizing its use;
  3. if the law enforcement agency possesses reasonable suspicion that, under particularcircumstances, swift action is needed to prevent imminent danger to life;
  4. to provide continuous aerial coverage when law enforcement is searching for a fugitiveor escapee or is monitoring a hostage situation; or
  5. to provide more expansive aerial coverage when deployed for the purpose of searchingfor a missing person.

In 2014, the Tennessee General Assembly enacted a chapter concerning “Surveillance by Unmanned Aircraft” as part of the Tennessee Code’s Criminal Offenses Title. It first defines “images” broadly, including “any capturing of sound waves, thermal, infrared, ultraviolet, visible light, or other electromagnetic waves, odor, or other conditions existing on or about real property in this state or an individual located on that property.” The definition of “unmanned aircraft” is broad, including any “airborne device that is operated without an individual in or on the device.”

House Bill HB 2376 (2016)

This amended law rewords Section 39-13-902(a)(1). It now states that it’s permissible for persons to operate unmanned aerial systems (UAS) on behalf of public and private higher education institutions.

House Bill HB 153 (2015)

Drone and UAS operators cannot fly and film over firework displays and open-air events without the owner’s prior consent. This law applies to gatherings of—or the potential to accommodate—more than 100 persons.

Senate Bill SB 1777 (2014)

Under this law, private entities cannot exploit drones to conduct video surveillance of private citizens lawfully engaged in hunting and fishing activities without their consent. Failure to comply with this rule is considered a class C misdemeanor.

Senate Bill SB 1892 (2014)

It’s a class C misdemeanor to use an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) for unlawful surveillance of persons or property. Furthermore, it’s considered a criminal act to possess, distribute, or use captured images for any purpose without consent; the latter being a Class B Misdemeanor.

Senate Bill SB 796 (2013)

Law enforcement agencies are authorized to use drones in certain operations with an official search warrant. That includes situations where swift action is vital to thwart imminent danger to life or counteract high-risk terror attacks. Any evidence gathered in violation of this law is inadmissible in Tennessee State prosecution cases.

The Tennessee Hunter Protection Act 70-4-301 to 303.​ ​​

The Tennessee Hunter Protection Act concerns the use of drones to interfere with a lawful exercise of taking wildlife. The statute creates a Class C misdemeanor for using a drone with the intent to conduct video surveillance of private citizens who are lawfully hunting or fishing without obtaining the written consent of the persons being surveilled prior to conducting the surveillance.

39-13-902.​ ​- ​Lawful capture of images – Use for lawful purposes​.

It is legal to capture an image using a drone in any of the following circumstances:

  1. for purposes of professional or scholarly research and development by a person actingon behalf of an institution of higher education;
  2. in airspace designated as a test site or range authorized by the Federal AviationAdministration for the purpose of integrating unmanned aircraft systems into the nationalairspace;
  3. as part of an operation, exercise, or mission of any branch of the United States military,as long as it complies with the United States Constitution;
  4. if the image is captured by a satellite for the purposes of mapping;
  5. if the image is captured by or for an electric or natural gas utility for one of several listedpurposes;
  6. with the consent of the individual who owns or lawfully occupies the real propertycaptured in the image;
  7. “for law enforcement purposes,” as defined by another statute, (see Tenn. Code39-13-609);
  8. if the image is captured by state law enforcement authorities, or a person who is under contract with or otherwise acting under the direction or on behalf of state authorities to survey a catastrophe or determine whether a state of emergency should be declared, to preserve public safety or protect property or survey damage or contamination during a lawfully declared state of emergency, or to conduct routine air quality sampling and monitoring;
  9. at the scene of a spill, or a suspected spill, of hazardous materials;
  10. for the purpose of fire suppression;
  11. for the purpose of rescuing a person whose life or well-being is in imminent danger;
  12. if the image is captured by a Tennessee licensed real estate broker in connection withthe marketing, sale, or financing of real property, provided no individual can be identifiedin the image;
  13. if the image is of real property or a person on that property;
  14. if the image is captured by the owner or operator of an oil, gas, water, or other pipelinefor the purpose of inspecting, maintaining, or repairing pipelines or other related facilities, and is captured without the intent to conduct surveillance on an individual or real property located in Tennessee;
  15. in connection with oil and gas pipeline and well safety and protection;
  16. in connection with port authority surveillance and security;
  17. as authorized or permitted by the Federal Aviation Administration for use in a motionpicture, television or similar production where the filming is authorized by the propertyowner and a state or local film permit agency, if necessary;
  18. as a part of a commercial service that has received authorization from the federalaviation administration to use unmanned aircraft or an unmanned aircraft operating under regulations promulgated by the federal aviation administration for commercial use of unmanned aircraft; (19) when an image is “captured by a state or local government agency, or by a person who is under contract with or otherwise acting under the direction or on behalf of such agency, [it] shall be handled in accordance with § 39-13-609 and shall not be used for any purpose other than the lawful purpose for which the image was captured as permitted by this section.” A recent amendment to the statute provides that it is legal to use drones to capture images in land surveying; by the department of transportation; or photogrammetric mapping.

39-13-903.​ ​Unlawful capture of an image with intent to conduct surveillance a misdemeanor offense -Defense.

If drones are used to capture images in any of the following ways, actions result in a Class C misdemeanor:

  1. uses an unmanned aircraft to capture an image of an individual or privately owned real property in Tennessee with the intent to conduct surveillance on the individual or property captured in the image;
  2. knowingly uses an image captured for law enforcement purposes by a state or local law enforcement agency, or by a person who is under contract with or otherwise acting under the direction of or on behalf of such agency;
  3. uses an unmanned aircraft to intentionally capture an image of an individual or event at an open-air event venue wherein more than one hundred individuals are gathered for a ticketed event, provided there is no consent from the venue owner or operator;
  4. knowingly uses an unmanned aircraft within or over a designated fireworks discharge site, fireworks display site, or fireworks fallout area during an event, subject to provided definitions of “discharge site,” “display site,” and “fallout area”; or
  5. knowingly uses an unmanned aircraft over the grounds of a correctional facility;
  6. knowingly uses an unmanned aircraft within two hundred fifty feet of the perimeter of anycritical infrastructure facility without the business operator’s written consent for the purpose of conducting surveillance of, gathering evidence or collecting information about, or photographically or electronically recording, critical infrastructure data.

39-13-904.​ – ​Possession or distribution and use of unlawfully captured images – Misdemeanor offenses – Separate images constitute separate offenses – Defenses.

The statutes create a Class C misdemeanor offense when a person possesses an image in violation of the law, and, a Class B misdemeanor when one “discloses, displays, distributes, or otherwise uses that image.” Each image creates a separate offense.

The section concludes by listing two separate defenses to these charges:

  1. that one destroyed the image as soon as he or she had knowledge it was capturedillegally, or
  2. that one “stopped disclosing, displaying, distributing, or otherwise using the image” assoon as he or she had knowledge it was captured illegally.

Specific additional UAV laws by local governments within Tennessee

Metro Government of Nashville & Davidson | County Ordinance 13.24.400

This local law prohibits the use of any flying machine (including drones) in Davidson County park.

UAS in State Parks

Tennessee State Parks Drone/UAV Policy

Drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Tennessee State Parks are subject to the same rules governing the use of aircraft and require written park manager approval before the flight is allowed. Information about the operation of aircraft in Tennessee State Parks, and the process for gaining approval to do so, please click here. Pilots should adhere to all applicable FAA requirements and regulations. Those wishing to film for commercial purposes will need permission from the Film Commission in addition to other applicable requirements. Visit TN Entertainment’s website for more information.

Please check with Tennessee State Parks Department for the latest regulations.


Notes for recreational drone pilots flying for fun in Tennessee

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 Tennessee 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 operating Commercial Drone Services in TN

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 Tennessee 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 Drone License (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 Drone License or 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.

Useful published information on flying drones in Tennessee

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 Tennessee 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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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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