So you finally bought a drone. Awesome! You’re not alone.

In fact, the FAA estimates more than 2.8 million drones will be purchased in 2016 alone, amounting to over 7 million drones in the U.S. by 2020. It’s safe to say that drones have gone mainstream.

Soon, drones will be taking to the skies to do all sorts of cool things, from cinematography to crisis response, revolutionizing and democratizing aviation. But like any vehicle, drones should be handled and operated with care. As drones get more powerful and less expensive, you can stay safe by asking yourself these 5 simple questions:

1. Is your drone registered?

In the United States, all drones weighing between 0.55 lbs. and 55 lbs. must be registered with the FAA at This includes all drones for recreational and non-recreational operations. Registration costs $5 and can be done online in minutes. Bring your registration information along with you when you fly.

Registration goes a long way towards guaranteeing accountability of drone operators for the safety and security of airspace. Moreover, operators flying unregistered drones could incur fines up to $27,500 in civil penalties, and fines up to $250,000 and prison time in criminal penalties.

2. Do you know the rules?

The rules for recreational drone operations in the U.S. follow common sense, but are often misunderstood. The basic rules are:

  • Never fly above 400 feet.
  • Keep your drone within visual line of sight.
  • Don’t fly over people.
  • Fly in accordance with a set of community-based guidelines.
  • If you’re flying within 5 miles of an airport, give notice to the airport.

These rules also apply to non-recreational flight under part 107, alongside other operational and safety standards pertinent to commercial operations. Learn more here.

3. Where are you?

Our airspace system is vast and ripe with complexity. In order to fly safely and legally, you need to understand the airspace in which you’re flying and if there are any nearby obstacles that could threaten the safety of you or others. For example, stay away from dense urban areas to avoid flying over people or near buildings and cars. An open field makes for a good place to fly a drone, unless it is near an airport or governed by the National Park Service.

Thankfully, AirMap makes it easy to know where you’re flying. Download the AirMap app for iOS or Android to get safety-critical airspace information. This includes controlled airspace, wildfires, temporary flight restrictions for when a local event is taking place, and even the locations of nearby air traffic, including airplanes, helicopters, and other drones, that could create a potential hazard for your drone’s area of operation.

While we are constantly and incrementally enhancing our airspace data, we encourage you to continue to check state and local ordinances for the most up-to-date information about your location.

4. Is it a nice day to fly?

Slight variations in weather conditions can have a big impact on drone flight.

Your drone manufacturer may provide performance estimates based on ideal flying conditions in a controlled environment, like maximum speed, altitude, or distance. But changes in wind speed, air density, visibility, and more can alter the speed and weight of your drone. This will, in turn, affect the drone’s battery life and maneuverability.

AirMap publishes local weather data directly to operators for added safety. Understanding and planning for these conditions will help you prepare for unpredictable performance or system failures so that you and others around you are safe.

5. Are you cleared for takeoff?

There’s never been a better time to fly your drone, but it’s important to understand the differences between recreational and commercial flight.

The FAA defines commercial drone operations as operating a drone for business purposes or for compensation or hire. If your drone operation is for commercial purpose, you’ll need to adhere to the standard operating procedures in part 107, including obtaining your remote pilot certificate. More information can be found here.

Drones are an exciting and revolutionary technology with tremendous potential to benefit our everyday lives. Responsible, educated, and accountable operations are critical for realizing this potential and unlocking this new generation of aviation innovation.