Flying Camera Drones: Know Before You Buy

Flying Camera Drones: Know Before You Buy

Aerial Camera Drones on Vacation: Flying Restrictions, Luggage Check-Ins and More

So you just saw the stunning phantom drone shots your cousin filmed on his latest trip to Hawaii.

The aerial pans show the island from hundreds of feet above the ground and you really feel like you’re in a hot air balloon soaring above the ocean.  Synced to some inspiring music, his YouTube video looks straight out of the cinema, and you’re in awe at the breathtaking views.

Did he really get these shots with his camera drone?

You decide it’s time to buy yourself one of these drones to kick-start your movie-making career! After all, he makes it look so easy.  But hold up there, Spielberg. There’s some things you should know about these flying cameras before you pack up your bags and head somewhere tropical in chase of stardom.  Did you know that you could be fined thousands of dollars for flying over prohibited grounds or even serve up to three years in prison for failing to register your device?

Uh oh. Better do some research first.

Can I fly a drone wherever I want on my trip?

The short answer is no. There are certain areas that prohibit drone use.

If you are taking a drone on vacation, chances are you simply want the footage for your own personal use. This would mean you were a recreational user and not trying to sell your material or use it in advertising, therefore, you should not have to worry about the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) drone commercial operation rules.

Let’s say, however, that you want to get some incredible shots of a waterfall on your tropical adventure and are getting ready to soar that bad boy high into the sky.  Make sure that you are within a visual line of your aircraft at all times and be aware that even then, you cannot legally ascend your drone more than 400 feet in the air according to the FAA’s model aircraft operations rules.

Nothing to compare how high 400 feet is to? Check out this video on a drone starting from the ground and capping out the legal flying limit.

As you can see, it’s still the perfect height to get breathtaking aerial shots on your trip once you learn how to fly a camera drone!

There are also places you just simply cannot operate your camera drone.  For example, national parks ban camera drones and are quick to fine violators.

sundance-vacations-blog-camera-drones-before-you-fly-b4ufly-appWhy? NBC news spoke with U.S. National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis who said a drone presence may be disturbing to not only visitors in the parks, but also to the wildlife, by potentially interfering with bird nests or wildlife high on the mountains.  In other instances, drones have crashed into waterways or were used for foul play to chase down endangered animals, and Jarvis was quoted saying he had to, “draw the line,” to protect the parks and their inhabitants.

Also be mindful of locations such as airports or aircraft flying stations such as hospitals or even fire stations, which require special permission to fly within a five-mile radius.  A helpful gadget for checking this is the FAA’s Before You Fly App, otherwise referred to as B4UFly, and can be downloaded for free from the App Store or Google Play store.

If you are within five miles of an airport does it mean you can’t fly your camera drone? No, but the FAA requires you to notify the airport operator of your activity before you fly.

Just make sure you are in the clear before you become a funding producer for the FAA with all the fines you’ll pay instead of producing your new, hit YouTube video.

Can I pack a camera drone in my luggage?

Of course! If you’re traveling within the United States that is.

You should not face a problem carrying your drone in a carry-on or checked bag at an airport within the country; although, many travelers prefer to pack their cameras in their carry-on to avoid misplaced luggage and ensure their fragile, and oftentimes expensive, devices are protected.  So long as the camera’s batteries are less than 160 watts, you are good to bring them along as well.

This is great news for travelers just crossing state lines; however, regulations are different in other countries.  For example, in the Bahamas a traveler was forced to pay an illegal fine to get his drone back even though it was legal to transport it there.  Austria bans all use of camera drones and, therefore, they are illegal to take abroad there.  Be sure to check the regulations out of country to see their specific laws on drones before flying with your camera drones.

If I buy a drone, do I need to register it before my trip?

Maybe. Depending on the size of your drone, you may have to register it.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires all drones between .55 and 55 pounds to be registered online before your first flight.  

Nowhere near a scale? If you think your drone weighs more than two sticks of butter, it must be registered.  You will fill out an online drone registration and submit your name, email and home address to ensure the drone is uniquely associated with you. You will also be asked to pay a $5 fee by the FAA.

This will give you your own Certificate of Aircraft Registration/Proof of Ownership and individual identification number to fix onto your drone to basically say, “hey, this is my drone and I’m only using it for recreation.”

Think of it like driving a car. If a police officer or official sees you operating your drone and asks to see your ownership paperwork, you must comply. Whether it’s a click away on your phone or you are carrying a physical printout, the FAA requires you have the registration certificate in your possession while operating the aircraft.

Luckily, your registration is good for up to three years, so if you just print it out and stick it in your camera bag, you shouldn’t need to worry.

You’ll also be able to have a log-in username and password to update your registration and to keep your information current, should you move, change names, or sell your aircraft in the future.

Been pushing off registering your camera drone?

Even if you are trying to learn how to fly your drone in your back yard, you could face thousands of dollars in fines if caught flying without proof of registration. In fact, civil penalties can reach up to $27,500 and once you get into legal penalties, criminal charges can include fines up to $250,000 or jail time up to three years.

Need I drone on?

Register your aircraft here through the Federal Aviation Administration.

Can I mount my GoPro on a drone?

Yes! If you already have a durable camera you’ve used on vacation, such as a GoPro, there are drones you can purchase with built-in camera mounts to support your camera.

Drones such as the DJI Phantom or the Turbo Ace have these camera mounts, but can be a bit spendy.

There are a variety of drone types such as the quadcopter, propelled by four rotors, as well as models more similar to helicopters and it’s hard to say what’s really the “best drone.”

If you are serious about getting pristine quality footage and want long battery life, it might be worth the investment to look in purchasing a sturdier drone that can hold more weight and therefore a more powerful camera. Be sure to do your research to find the best drone for you.

Don’t have an action camera and not looking to break the bank on your first drone purchase?  That’s okay!  There are plenty of drones that have internal cameras such as the Protocol Dronium One RC.

This lightweight drone can do 360-degree flips and has designated buttons for the video and photo modes to make it easy for you to record your adventures at three different speeds.  Discover more about the Dronium on our Sundance Vacations News site.

Conclusion – Join the Drone Movement

According to, industry group experts are projecting 2016 drone sales to soar up 146 percent higher than 2015 figures. That means they predict Americans will make one million drone purchases that meet the minimum weight requirements for registration.

These devices are growing in popularity quite quickly and it’s easy to see why.  With the power to control a high quality camera in the air at consumer’s fingertips, it’s hard to resist switching from boring ground shots to sensational aerial sweeps from the sky.

Remember, always ensure where you’re flying is a safe zone and to register your device before your first flight.  With TSA guidelines so lax, it should be easy to take your drone with you on your upcoming trip in the U.S. and get those amazing shots you’ve been dreaming of.

Rolling camera in 3…2…1…Action!

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