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New drone laws to take effect

As drones become more common, North Carolina’s laws are changing to stay up-to-date with the fast-growing industry.

Gov. Roy Cooper has signed two bills passed by the General Assembly, one revising existing laws and one new law to ensure that drone operation remains safe.

House Bill 128 prohibits drone use near prisons. “Near” is defined as a horizontal distance of 500 feet or a vertical distance of 250 feet. The N.C. Department of Transportation will place signs marking these boundaries. The law goes into effect Dec. 1.

House Bill 337 revises existing state drone laws to clarify that unmanned aircraft laws will now apply to model aircraft, as well. This part of the law also goes into effect Dec. 1. Model aircraft users are still exempt from state permit requirements.

Other changes in the law serve to streamline state regulations with federal regulations. The minimum age for getting a commercial permit to operate an unmanned aircraft is now 16, the age that federal law stipulates.

Additionally, people who wish to obtain a commercial permit can use any government-issued form of photo identification allowed by the Federal Aviation Administration. This section of the law is effective immediately.

The revisions also loosen restrictions on the use of unmanned aircraft in emergency management. The law permits emergency management agencies to use drones and removes the restriction on the use of special imaging technology.

The use of technologies such as thermal and infrared was previously permitted only for scientific purposes. The removal of the restriction allows private and commercial operators to assist law enforcement with emergency management efforts such as search-and-rescue operations.

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Knowledge Test Study Guide has been updated to reflect the changes. It is available on the N.C. Division of Aviation website, along with information on how to ensure you are compliant with the regulations.

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