Don’t Drink and Drone – FAA Regulations on Drones & Alcohol


drink-drone-faa-alcohol-regulationsI thought I should write an article to educate individuals on one of the lesser known regulations regarding flying drones and drinking. This article will address first the commercial drone operators and then the recreational drone or model aircraft operators.

 

The FAA is really focused on preventing people from droning under the influence of either alcohol or drugs.

 

Commercial Drone Operators Using Alcohol or Drugs

 

Commercial drone operators are either operating under Part 107 or under a Section 333 exemption.

 

Part 107 

14 CFR 107.27 says,

“A person manipulating the flight controls of a small unmanned aircraft system or acting as a remote pilot in command or visual observer must comply with the provisions of §§91.17 and 91.19 of this chapter.”  Part 107 incorporates Part 91 by reference. Part 107 does this also with the temporary flight restriction provisions.

 

Let’s now look at the other way commercial drone operators can legally fly.

 

Section 333 Exemptions

The Section 333 exemptions were updated in November 2016 and include, “Unless otherwise specified in this exemption, the UAS, the UAS PIC, and the UAS operations must comply with all applicable parts of 14 CFR including, but not limited to, parts 45, 47, 48, 61, and 91.”

 

Remember that when operating under a Section 333 exemption, you are really operating under all of the other Parts of the federal aviation regulations besides Part 107. If you comb through them all, you’ll find the same two regulations that were referenced by Part 107 – 91.17 and 91.19.

 

Let’s dive into what 91.17  and 91.19 says.

 

14 CFR Sec. 91.17 says,

(a) No person may act or attempt to act as a crewmember of a civil aircraft—

(1) Within 8 hours after the consumption of any alcoholic beverage;

(2) While under the influence of alcohol;

(3) While using any drug that affects the person’s faculties in any way contrary to safety; or

(4) While having an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater in a blood or breath specimen. Alcohol concentration means grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood or grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.

. . . . 

(c) A crewmember shall do the following:

(1) On request of a law enforcement officer, submit to a test to indicate the alcohol concentration in the blood or breath, when—

(i) The law enforcement officer is authorized under State or local law to conduct the test or to have the test conducted; and

(ii) The law enforcement officer is requesting submission to the test to investigate a suspected violation of State or local law governing the same or substantially similar conduct prohibited by paragraph (a)(1), (a)(2), or (a)(4) of this section.

(2) Whenever the FAA has a reasonable basis to believe that a person may have violated paragraph (a)(1), (a)(2), or (a)(4) of this section, on request of the FAA, that person must furnish to the FAA the results, or authorize any clinic, hospital, or doctor, or other person to release to the FAA, the results of each test taken within 4 hours after acting or attempting to act as a crewmember that indicates an alcohol concentration in the blood or breath specimen.

(d) Whenever the Administrator has a reasonable basis to believe that a person may have violated paragraph (a)(3) of this section, that person shall, upon request by the Administrator, furnish the Administrator, or authorize any clinic, hospital, doctor, or other person to release to the Administrator, the results of each test taken within 4 hours after acting or attempting to act as a crewmember that indicates the presence of any drugs in the body.

(e) Any test information obtained by the Administrator under paragraph (c) or (d) of this section may be evaluated in determining a person’s qualifications for any airman certificate or possible violations of this chapter and may be used as evidence in any legal proceeding under section 602, 609, or 901 of the Federal Aviation Act of 1958.

 

Can You Give Me Some Real World Scenarios How People Could Violate the Regulation?

Here are some real world scenarios on how you can violate section 91.17:

  • (1) Within 8 hours after the consumption of any alcoholic beverage;
    • You go to a party, have one beer, and then go fly your drone 30 minutes later.
    • You stayed up partying hard past midnight (2am was your last drink time). You get up early around 7am to shoot some footage.
  • (2) While under the influence of alcohol;
    • You got hammered last night and passed out. You get up early and still feel buzzed.
  • (3) While using any drug that affects the person’s faculties in any way contrary to safety; or
    • You are on some powerful medication to treat some type of disease or pain. This medication is affecting your faculties in ANY way.
  • (4) While having an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater in a blood or breath specimen. Alcohol concentration means grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood or grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.
    • You played a drinking game with your buddies using whiskey, but that was over 8 hours ago. You are a seasoned drinking vet and have developed a high tolerance for alcohol. (You can hold your liquor). You might still be above .04 because your alcohol tolerance is so high.

Recreational Drone or Model Aircraft Operators

Part 101 does not specifically prohibit drinking in droning,  but…… it does say

 

§ 101.43 Endangering the safety of the National Airspace System.

“No person may operate model aircraft so as to endanger the safety of the national airspace system.”

 

Depending on which FAA inspector you run into and the facts of the situation, drunk droning could be considered to be endangering the national airspace.

 

Furthermore, Part 101 is applicable to a model aircraft “that meets all of the following conditions” of Part 101 such as the requirement to operate the “aircraft is operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines[.]” The Academy of Model Aeronautics Safety Code does NOT allow a person to operate a drone under the influence of drugs or alcohol. RCAPA safety guidelines also don’t allow drinking and droning. I do not know of any community based organization that allows this.

 

Why do I mention this?

 

This is a very important point. If you are NOT flying according to Part 101, because you are violating the safety codes by drinking and droning, you MUST comply with Part 107. You are going to have to comply with one or the other.

 

 

 

Remember that the AMA, RCAPA, etc., those community based organizations, are NOT the law, but the law says you need to be operating in accordance with a community based organization’s safety guidelines!

 

This could open you up to many additional violations you could be charged with such as flying your aircraft without a remote pilot certificate, flying in airspace without an authorization, flying over people, etc.

 

Don’t drink and drone and don’t let your friends drink and drone.

Jonathan Rupprecht

Mr. Rupprecht is an aviation attorney who focuses on drones. Read more about his background as a commercial pilot, flight instructor, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University grad, and legal author. He has had media appearances on Forbes, Newsweek, Politico, NPR, Marketwatch, The Independent, Motherboard, and other sources. Feel free to send Jonathan a message here.