A question or curiosity often present in many people’s minds regarding drone flights is: how high can drones fly?
The question then multiplied into many other questions; how, where, and when is it legal to fly a drone? Are there important factors that professional UAV pilots and hobbyists need to adhere to regarding drone flight and its regulations?
The many questions cannot be separated from how the capabilities and developments of drone technology continue to run. On the other hand, if there is no regulation, the risk of chaos will be even greater.
How high drones can fly depends on two vital factors. The first factor is the technical capability of the drone itself. The second factor is regulation.
Drone Flying Rules
Each country has its regulations regarding drone flights. However, in general, the drone flight regulations issued by the United States are an essential reference.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the United States federal government aviation agency, issued special regulations regarding drone flights in 2016. These regulations are commonly known as Part 107 rules.
Regarding drone flight altitude, Part 107 states that:
“The altitude of the small unmanned aircraft cannot be higher than 400 feet above ground level unless the small unmanned aircraft is (1) flown within a 400-foot radius of a structure, and (2) does not fly higher than 400 feet above the structure’s immediate uppermost limit.”
There is a clear height limit, which is 400 feet. When a drone flies above 400 feet, it is a violation of the rules. However, there is some ambiguity in the statute regarding its exceptions.
The cornerstone of the 400-foot limit rule is manned aircraft activity. The average manned aircraft activity is at an altitude of 500 feet or more. A difference of 100 feet is the safe limit for avoiding encounters between UAVs and human-crewed aircraft.
Section 107.51 states that the drone’s altitude can exceed 400 feet if flying around the structure. The main principle of this exception is that crewed aircraft will also adjust their cruising altitude as they fly over large structures.
For example, an airplane that flies typically at an altitude of 500 feet will inevitably increase its height as it passes over a large building, communication tower, or mountain.
This United States federal government regulation is used as an essential reference for drone pilots. So, in general, UAV pilots will not fly drones above 400 feet.
Of course, each country has different regulations regarding how high a drone flight can be flown. Therefore, pilots need to understand these regulatory issues.
Even so, five principles can be a beacon for pilots when flying drones, so they don’t conflict with regulations in their respective countries. Here are the five principles:
1. Register your Drone
Some countries require UAV pilots to register their drones before starting to fly.
This registration is done so that pilots can easily find out the location of their drone if it gets lost. Drone pilots can also be held accountable when their drones fly recklessly.
2. Pilot Certification is Important
If you are pursuing a career as a professional drone pilot, try to have a pilot certification. That way, you have a kind of “sign” that you are indeed a professional and understand the regulations regarding drones.
3. Always Fly in a Line-of-Sight Horizon
It’s easy enough to find amateur pilots curious about how far their drones can fly. Though, ideally, it is to think about how far the pilot can fly the drone safely.
Flying within the line-of-sight horizon will prevent the drone from colliding or otherwise causing harm.
4. Avoid Flying Near Airports and Other Sensitive Locations
Never fly a drone in the exact location as a manned plane is flying. Flying a drone at an airport, stadium, or other sensitive areas can pose a severe security risk.
Some sensitive locations usually not suitable for drones are government buildings, military areas, and palace areas.
5. Always Fly at Safe Altitude
The United States and several other countries limit the maximum flying height of drones to only 400 meters. The goal is to prevent flight disruptions on manned aircraft. A good pilot will fly the drone below 400 meters.
Drone Flying Ability
Drones with the most advanced aerodynamic capabilities and technology can even fly up to an altitude of 33,000 feet. In other words, there is no limit for drones to fly above 400 feet.
Even so, the drones on the market today are equipped with a technology called an altimeter. The drone’s built-in altimeter technology is intentionally programmed to detect flying altitude. If the UAVs are seen as flying close to 400 feet, the altimeter will give a warning.
The altimeter sensor works by measuring the air pressure around it. The measurement results are then compared with the air pressure at sea level, obtained when the drone performs the calibration process.
As additional information, several factors can measure the maximum height that a drone can reach. Of course, these factors assume that the drone is not equipped with an altimeter sensor. Here are the factors to consider:
1. Absolute Ceiling Point
The Absolute Ceiling is the highest altitude point a drone can sustain its flight. At this point, the drone can’t climb any higher. To find out, each drone has to be tested individually.
Each drone has a different absolute ceiling point. Unfortunately, there are many risks to be faced if one wants to fly a drone to its highest point.
2. Maximum Service Ceiling Point Above Sea Level
This altitude point is where the drone can only climb at a maximum capacity of 100 feet per minute. Usually, this point is used as the top takeoff altitude limit.
3. Signal Max Point
The drone’s flying capability is also limited by its signal coverage capability. The higher the climb, the signal strength between the drone and the pilot will decrease.
What Happens If a Drone Flys Over 400 Feet?
When you fly a drone above 400 feet, the risk is a dangerous collision with an in-flight manned aircraft. Your drone is destroyed, the human-crewed plane is damaged, and someone’s life is in danger of being lost.
The consequences are always haunting, and the reason why the number 400 feet needs to be instilled in pilots early on.
Some cases of drone accidents with manned aircraft occur at altitudes above 400 feet. That’s why, when flying a drone, always make sure that the plane is in the pilot’s line of sight. Moreover, it is pretty challenging to see a drone at an altitude above 400 feet without the aid of tools.
In addition to direct consequences, regulatory issues are also ready to await if you fly above the height limit that has been set. Restrictions and regulations aim to protect you, other modes of flying, and people on the ground from unfortunate accidents due to negligence or abuse.