FAA Rules Say You Can’t Fly Your Drone Within 500 Feet of People or Property.

In Drone Law Blog, Section 333 Petitions by Enrico Schaefer1 Comment

FAA 500 Foot Rule

Just because you obtained permission from the FAA to fly your drone under a section 333 exemption does not mean you can do whatever you want with your drone.  There are any number of FAA rules and regulations that you must follow if you want to fly your drone lawfully.  Watch to the video below to learn more about this important FAA drone rule.

Can I fly my drone over people who aren’t part of my flight, or  houses, buildings or cars that don’t belong to me?

Each section 333 exemption will contain approximately 33 different conditions and limitations. If you do not follow these conditions and limitations, the FAA can take away your exemption and even issue penalties and fines. One of the more challenging drone rules is the 500 foot zone of safety. Here is what the FAA Has to say about flying your drown too close to people or property.

  1. All Flight operations must be conducted at least 500 feet from all nonparticipating persons, vessels, vehicles, and structures unless:

    a. Barriers or structures are present that sufficiently protect nonparticipating persons from the UA and/or debris in the event of an accident. The operator must ensure that nonparticipating persons remain under such protection. If a situation arises where nonparticipating persons leave such protection and are within 500 feet of the UA, flight operations must cease immediately in a manner ensuring the safety of nonparticipating persons; and

    b. The owner/controller of any vessels, vehicles or structures has granted permission for operating closer to those objects and the PIC has made a safety assessment of the risk of operating closer to those objects and determined that it does not present an undue hazard.

The PIC, VO, operator trainees or essential persons are not considered nonparticipating persons under this exemption.

Watch the video below to learn what you need to know about the FAA’s 500 foot rule.


Welcome to Drone Law Pro Radio. Today were going to be talking about the FAA Section 333 Conditions and Limitation.

Just because you get permission from the FAA to fly your drone for business purposes, doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want. The FAA Section 333 exemption is going to contain a number of rules you need to live by. These conditions and limitations are going to help you fly safe and they are going to be one of the items that you need to pay very close attention to as you launch your commercial drone business.

What is an FAA Section 333 Exemption for drone use? It’s the FAA telling you that you can fly your drone for business as long as you follow these rules. Let’s take a look at some of the conditions and limitations that you would expect to see in your Section 333 obtained by the FAA.

Some sample FAA 333 exemptions are going to be in addition to the FAA drone regulations the federal aviation regulations that you also have to comply with. You’ll have to take a look at those federal aviation regulations. Your licensed pilot will know what those are. In terms of the conditions and limitations which will be actually stated in your 333, you’re going to see there are ironically 33 of those exemptions which you will typically find and they are going to determine what your company needs to do in order to fly legal. Some of these conditions and limitations are going to be really important because your failure to comply with any of the conditions and limitations could result in your loss of your 333 exemption and put you out of business. For instance, your company name is going to be limited to certain SAUS that you have added in your exemption petition.

Let’s scroll on down here and take a look at number 26. All flight operations must be conducted at least 500 feet from all non-participating person, vessels, vehicles and structures unless you do certain things. You’re going to see that the 500 foot rule breaks down into two general categories: A) People, what they call non-participating persons and B) Vessels, vehicles and structures. You can’t be within 500 feet of any non-participating person, or vessel, vehicle or structures. This makes this incredibly challenging if you happen to be flying in the real estate market where you’re doing downtown real estate and there are neighbors or you’re doing downtown commercial properties where there are other buildings and people around.

Let’s break this down and take a closer look at this particular condition and limitation. Five Hundred feet is a long way, a basketball feet is about 94 feet long and a city block can be anywhere between 200 and 400 feet. You could be talking about non-participating persons, vessels, vehicles and structures within the entire block and that’s a big challenge. The first thing you need to be thinking about is how far is 500 feet and it’s a long way. Once you figure out who is within that 500 foot radius, who are the people and who are the people who own buildings, vehicles, cars, trucks, any other type of structure or vessel if you happen to be doing some maritime work and then you’re going to figure out a strategy for complying with this 500 foot rule. Let’s break this down – a non-participating person, vessel, vehicle or structure, what does that mean? What does non-participating mean? It’s a good question and it’s the first question you ought to be asking yourself. The FAA does not provide any definitions of what a non-participating person is with any level of detail, but they do give some examples. They say 1) that a pilot in command is a participating person; they’re part of your flight. A visual observer, the VO is part of your flight, they’re participating. Anyone that is being trained is participating. Then they have this category called essential persons. Essential persons are also considered participating persons and they can be in the 500 foot radius. What is an essential person? It is undefined, but you can make the good faith argument for compliance purposes, that it is any person who is instrumental to not only the operation, but the purpose of the flight. If you are doing wedding photography, then everyone who is in the wedding and all of the invitees of the wedding could be essential people of the flight, at least from a compliance standpoint.

Let’s take another look at this and let’s think about 500 feet and let’s think about some of the “unless” provisions that we’ve got to deal with. It can’t be within 500 feet from person, vessels, vehicles, property unless and now we see these two categories again A and B. It breaks down into unless and then you’ve non-participating unless people, provision and then vessels, vehicles and structure unless provisions.

Let’s take a look at the non-participating people. They can be within 500 feet of your flight if there are barriers or structures that are present that provide sufficient protection from the people who are non-participating and what you’re looking for here is protection from debris in the event of an accident. As long as people are inside a building and they certainly would be under a structure that is going to provide protection in case there is problem with the drone and it falls out of the sky. That is easy. If they’re on the street, then they’re not, but what if they’re under a tree that provides protection so that if a drone fell out of the sky vertically, that they would not likely be hit. You could make again, a good faith compliance argument that that would be a barrier or structure that keeps that non-participating person safe. If someone who is non-participating is not participating in your flight wanders into your 500 foot zone of safety, then you need to do what is necessary to cease operations in a matter ensuring the safety of those persons. That means essentially that you need to bring your drone down or move it to a place away from the people who are non-participating. There’s no exact correct answer here. You need to do what is safe for the person who isn’t part of your flight operation. Always think safety first. That is the main point the FAA is trying to stress here.

Let’s now switch up here and talk about being within 500 feet of a vehicle, vessel or structure. Here it is a different approach. It’s not about making sure a person is under a structure that is going provide them safety, but about permission and risk of some sort of hazard. Here you could actually say, I’m going to be within 500 feet of someone else’s home or car and I’m going to get permission from them. I’m going to determine, the pic is going to determine that it’s a safe flight, that there’s no undue risk and that there’s no undue hazard as a result of being within 500 feet of someone’s car or house. These are pretty low barriers if there was a structure that was a power line or power grid, something else that was a higher risk, then you would have to make a different assessment in terms of safety.

Let’s talk a little bit about granting permission. What is granting permission? Again, no definition from the FAA. From a legal standpoint, you could make a compliance argument that you could provide notice to the neighbors and building owners in the area, tell them your contact information, give them your flight, date, time and tell them what it is you’re doing and if they don’t object, that could constitute permission or at least give you an argument of permission. Obviously if you’re going to get signed and written permission, that’s going to be higher level of compliance and less subject to attack.

The 500 foot rule is, in fact, one of the most challenging conditions and limitations. The FAA is not looking to cite you for violations; they’re not looking to investigate you. They want you to fly safe. That’s the main thing. They want you to be educated about flight. You need to make a good faith effort to comply with this condition, with this limitation and you’re probably going to be okay if you are a safe operator and you don’t have safety incidents, then these types of provision aren’t likely to come back and haunt you.

That’s all for Drone Law Pro radio today and Section 333 compliance. We’ll see you next time.


  1. Enrico Schaefer

    Many people think the FAA section 333 500 foot rule is too restrictive. Once Part 107 becomes law, the 500 foot rule goes away. The FAA is taking small steps towards loosening the regulations.

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