MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – Local authorities defer to federal guidelines for anyone flying drones in the Grand Strand or Pee Dee. Whether you are a hobbyist or a professional, there are rules you must follow.
Wesley Hewett flies drones as part of his business, Phoenix Rising Aerospace. He brought three drones to the beach to show what each one can do. The smallest drone, which he allows his kids to play with, weighed a quarter of a pound. This drone had guards around the propellers and used a manual controller. The mid-sized drone had three GPS systems in it. Hewett was not able to fly the largest drone because its permits are still pending.
If you have a drone that weighs more than half a pound, it must be registered with the FAA. This will provide you with a tail number, just like a plane. This number allows the FAA to identify any drone owner if there were to be any accidents. According to the FAA's website, nearly 300,000 drones have been registered.
As a hobbyist, you are allowed to fly a registered drone up to 400 feet in the air without a pilot's license.
If you are flying a registered drone commercially, you must have a sport pilot's license, a 333 waiver, and a certificate of air worthiness. Under commercial guidelines, you are limited to 200 feet in the air. Anything above 200 feet requires flight plans submitted to the FAA. This is to prevent any drones crashing into an airplane or getting sucked into an engine.
"Drones fly about 30 miles per hour," explained Hewett. "But an aircraft is flying roughly 150 to 200 miles per hour, cannot avoid the drone. It's like flying straight into a bird, so to speak."
The FAA "no fly" zone extends for a five mile radius around airports. If you do intend to fly anywhere near that radius, you need to call the airport and let air traffic control when you will fly, what time you will fly, and how high you will fly. The airport can deny your request to fly a drone.
"Depending upon climate conditions, it just depends upon which way the aircraft are going to be taking off," said Hewett. "If they're going to be taking off in the direction you're going to be flying your drone -- it'll be a no go."
The FAA also lists these recommendations:
- Fly below 400 feet
- Keep your UAS (drone) within visual line of sight
- Keep away from emergency responders
- Never fly over stadiums, sports events, or groups of people
- Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol
National parks and U.S. military bases are also on the "no fly" zone list. For a comprehensive map of where you can or cannot fly a drone, click here.
Hewett recommends anyone looking to fly a drone along the Grand Strand to take extra caution near major attractions, festivals, hotels, and the beach during the busy summer season.
"Be cautious of people," said Hewett. "Because these things can actually hurt people. It's something falling out of the sky that weighs two or three pounds - can really hurt somebody. As well as the props, if you end up flying one of these and these props are spinning, it can seriously injure somebody."
The city of Myrtle Beach does not have any regulations prohibiting or limiting the use of drones in city limits, according to city spokesman Mark Kruea. That means the city defers to federal rules and regulations on drones.