Drone laws in the state of California

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the US government agency tasked to implement rules and regulations specific to flying drones or UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) in all states of America including California. This guide covers drone laws in every city in California including: Los Angeles (L.A), San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Fresno, Sacramento, Long Beach, Oakland and more.

The counties of California

FAA Rules and Regulations:

Flying drones for work/business purposes: Guidelines for using drones for commercial purposes is indicated in FAA Part 107. FAA requires acquiring authorization to fly for FAA defined “commercial” as in filming, selling aerial photos or videos, hire inspectors and surveyors. Copy of permission must be submitted at the respective StatE Park District Office.

Flying drones for recreational purposes: Rules and regulations applies under the Exceptions for Recreational Flyers.

Flying drones for government employees: drones must be registered and be aware of FAA Airspace Restrictions.

California State Park Rules and Regulations for flying drones:

  • The California Department of Parks and Recreation prohibits the use of drones and other motorized types of equipment in wild park, cultural and reserved parks. (Cal. Code Regs. tit. 14, § 4351)
  • Recreational drone operators should check with their respective state park districts for rules and regulations about fly zones.
  • Recreational drone operators are expected to comply with the measures and guidelines indicated in FAA Rules and Regulations
  • Drone/UAS use is allowed for research and surveys with an acquired FAA authorization and scientific collection permit
  • Government agencies are required to acquire a Certificate of Authorization before operating a public drone before conducting any government-related works in state parks
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Other state-specific laws for flying drones in California include:

  • Sec. 1, 626.12,  prohibits flying of drones unless authorized by the federal law, with written permission from the school principal or a higher authority or designee or equivalent school authority, to fly on grounds, or less than 350 feet above ground level within airspace ovulating, a public school (kindergarten/grades 1 to 12) during school hours. But not limited to individuals employed in public communication sector (news reported, writers, media bloggers etc)
  • All images, footage data retained must be permanently destroyed within one year except for the following reasons:
  • Training purposes
  • Academic or research
  • Law enforcement agents are allowed to use drones/unmanned aircraft only for:
    • Search warrant
    • Emergencies that poses threat to a human life
    • Private property surveillance
    • Determining appropriate response during a state of emergency or a natural disaster

But not liable to damage if :

  • SB 168 Drone operators engaging in misdemeanor on drone/UAS use and who cause delays in extinguishing fires, resistance and interfere in lawful efforts of firefighters (including police officers, firefighters, emergency responders,  military staff performing their lawful duties in coping with an emergency). And, will be punishable by law if proven of misconduct.
  • Sec.43.101 
    • Emergency medical respons
    • Firefighting-related services, including air services related to firefighting or firefighting-related services.
    • Search and rescue services, including air search and rescue operation

All images, footage data retained must be permanently destroyed within one year except for the following reasons:

  • Training purposes
  • Academic or research
  • Images, footage, data are evidence in any claim filed, pending litigation, internal disciplinary proceeding, enforcement proceeding, or criminal investigation
  • SB 1355 Unless a person has permission from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to operate the unmanned aircraft system over the prison, use of drones/UAS in correctional facilities for bringing, possessing, distributing, or selling certain devices and substances is prohibited.
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Here are some ordinances that apply to a specific municipality/town in California:

Laguna Beach, California

Drone/UAS operators are prohibited from flying their UAS over Heisler Park, Main Beach Park, Treasure Island Park, Irvine Bowl, Crescent Bay Park, Bluebird Park. Strictly for hobbyists/recreational drone users: drone operators are allowed on other parks not mentioned only for recreation purposes (no selling or profiting from images captured using drones).

Huntington Beach, California

Flying drones requirements: must be a certified FAA pilot; fly drones/UAS not less than five miles away from John Wayne airport and fly at an altitude of 200 feet or less than above the ground maintaining UAS visible at the line of sight of their operators.

Riverside, California

Title 12.04.045 [Ord. 7362 § 4, 2017]

Additional restrictions strictly for hobbyists and recreational flyers: Drones must be kept visible in the line of sight of their operator, must conform to FAA Know Before You Fly, must inform the Airport Air Traffic Enforcer if flying within five miles of the airport.

San Diego, California

City Law 52.503

Flying drones in public and private areas are allowed but the noise that it creates and might disturb someone can be held accountable in violation of Noise Ordinance under (Art. 9.5 Noise Abatement and Control, Division 4: Limits)

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