The Importance of Drone Safety Awareness

November 11, 2020

In 2019, the United States alone had about 990,00 recreational operators registered and an estimated 1.32 million recreational drones in the United States. The number of recreational drones in the US is forecasted to peak around 1.5 million drones in the next year. With the influx of drones in the recreational, commercial, philanthropic, and civil spaces, being aware of rules, regulations, and best practices is crucial to keeping everyone safe. During drone safety awareness week, MissionGO provides tips and best practices for drone operators.

MissionGO’s sUAS Senior Pilot and Public Safety Expert, Rodney Manuel, says “the ultimate goal of a successful sUAS unit within any organization is to be as compliant, professional, and safe as possible. Bringing the safety culture and mind set of the manned aviation world to the unmanned aviation world is a top priority of MissionGO and should be a top priority of all sUAS program managers and operators.” 

Safety should never be minimized and should focus on items such as: safe battery charging and storage, flight operation safety, crew resource management, understanding in-flight emergencies, preventative maintenance and proper fleet management, understanding the national airspace system, the danger of complacency, and continual improvement of flight skills.

All of these topics are important to ensure a sUAS program can operate and integrate safely with manned aircraft – as there is not a more important mission.   

During National Drone Safety Awareness Week, we wanted to share some insight into some of the questions facing the new drone community. What is the difference between a Recreational Flyer and a Commercial Operator? What do you need to know before you fly? What safety measures should an operator take before and during flights? How can you improve your flying skills? 

MissionGO National Drone Safety Awareness Week

What is the Difference Between a Recreational Flyer and a Commercial Operator?

Recreational Flyers

A Recreational Flyer is someone who flies drones for fun. Recreational flyers must have an understanding of airspace and how to identify where and where not to fly. These flyers are not allowed, by law, to fly their drone above 400 feet when in an uncontrolled airspace, and must register their aircraft with the FAA before flying. 

Here are a few guidelines the FAA provides for recreational drone operators:

  • Keep your drone within your visual line of sight, or within the visual line-of-sight of a visual observer who is co-located (physically next to) and in direct communication with you.
  • Only fly during daylight.
  • Only below 400 feet.
  • Give way to and do not interfere with a manned aircraft. 
  • Never fly over any person or moving vehicle.
  • Never interfere with emergency response activities such as disaster relief, any type of accident response, law enforcement activities, firefighting, or hurricane recovery efforts.
  • Do not operate your drone in a careless or reckless manner.

Sourced from:

Commercial Operators

In contrast, a commercial operator is a person or company who uses their drone or unmanned aircraft system for business or compensation. Commercial operator businesses can include services such as aerial photography, advertising via drone, monitoring and surveillance, and drone delivery services. These flyers must obtain an FAA-Certified Drone Pilot certification and  must also register their aircraft with the FAA before flying.

Here are a few guidelines the FAA provides for commercial drone operators:

  • Remote pilot in command must perform a preflight inspection.
  • Commercial drones / unmanned aircraft systems must access that the conditions are safe to operate. There must be weather visibility of 3 miles from control station.
  • Do not fly near another aircraft or over people (waivable with FAA approval)
  • Do not fly in controlled airspace (waivable with FAA approval)
  • Only fly during daylight or civil twilight, or below 400 feet (waivable with FAA approval)
  • No person may pilot in command or VO for more than one unmanned aircraft operation at one time.
  • A person may not operate an unmanned aircraft if they possess any physical or mental condition that would interfere with operation.
MissionGO—Drone Safety Awareness Week: FAA Guidelines for recreational and commercial drone operators.

What Do You Need to Know Before You Fly?

Regardless if you are a recreational or commercial operator, is important to know which safety precautions to take before you fly. The FAA has produced safety-based guidelines and regulations for both commercial and recreational use. 


  • Fly at or below 400 feet.
  • Check local laws and ordinances before flying over private property.
  • Make sure you are flying in a safe environment with a competent operator.
  • Contact an airport or control tower before flying within 5 miles of an airport.
  • Register your Unmanned Aircraft is it is between 0.55 lbs and 55 lbs. (You are subject to civil and criminal penalties if you meet the above criteria and do not register your aircraft.) Register HERE.


  • Fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Fly in adverse weather conditions.
  • Equip drones with weapons.
  • Take pictures or conduct surveillance in an area with an expectation of privacy without an individual’s permission.
  • Fly over sensitive infrastructure.
  • Fly in national parks.
  • Intentionally fly over unprotected people or moving vehicles. Remain at least 25 feet away from individuals and vulnerable property.
MissionGO Vegas Flight

How Can You Improve Your Flying Skills?

It is important to continually improve your flying skills for your safety and for the safety of others. Ryan Henderson, Lead UAS Pilot at MissionGO, states, “I think one of the best ways to stay safe is to stay current. Pilots can maintain skill by participating in routine flight operations and integrating detailed pre and post-flight inspection on aircraft and all associated systems. Staying current also means being up to date on current rules and regulations as well.” 

Other ways to improve your flying skills include:

  • Taking a training course and watch instructional videos.
  • Practicing in open areas with a wide view of the flight path, and without any obstructions.
  • Start with the basics. Practice taking off, hovering in place, steering and landing before attempting to at great distances.
  • Use landing targets to help improve your landing precision. 

The FAA also has many resources on their website to help you stay current and improve your flying skills. Visit the FAA’s National Drone Safety Awareness 2020 page for more information.

During Drone Safety Awareness week, Ryan Henderson, Lead UAS Pilot at MissionGO states “I think one of the best ways to stay safe is to stay current. Pilots can maintain skill by participating in routine flight operations and integrating detailed pre and post-flight inspection on aircraft and all associated systems. Staying current also means being up to date on current rules and regulations as well.”

At MissionGO, we value continuous learning and safety. 

Rodney Manual Drone Safety Awareness Week
Rodney Manuel—Drone Safety Awareness Week

“I came to work as a Senior sUAS Pilot/Instructor for MissionGO because of the attention and importance the company gives to safety and innovation. Within the discipline of sUAS programs and operations, I can’t imagine any company having a more in-depth safety program or a more comprehensive fleet management software, AlarisPRO.  Their pioneering and groundbreaking visions with regard to sUAS being utilized to save and enhance human lives is unrivaled and unparalleled. I can’t imagine flying and working anywhere else.“ —Rodney Manual