When you get a drone you have a lot of fun flying it around capturing video content and great photos too. However, you have to be careful that you only fly your drone where you're allowed to do so. One place where you may wonder if you can fly your drone is in Death Valley.
You cannot launch, fly, or land a drone in Death Valley because it's part of the National Park Service. To be able to fly your drone in any part of the National Park Service requires you to have a special permit that gives you permission to do so. Otherwise, it's illegal so you can't do it.
Flying Drones in Death Valley
Death Valley is a dessert that's located in Eastern California. It has many towering peaks. These are covered with snow throughout the wintertime. This scenery is what makes it an ideal location to take photographs and capture videos. However, you may wonder if you can use your drone to help you with this.
According to the law, there are some areas, conditions, and restrictions regarding the flying of drones, quadcopters, and other model aircraft in Death Valley. This is because Death Valley lies within grounds that are "governed" by the National Park Service. They deem that launching, landing, or otherwise operating drones within this area is prohibited unless you have express permission (in writing) to do so by the superintendent.
In this regard, the National Park Service is referring to any and all "unmanned aircraft." This term is defined as any devices that are used for flying through the air without someone being with the aircraft at all times to interact with it while it is flying. This person must also be in direct contact with any of the aircraft's operational elements and components (e.g. cameras, sensors, communication links) too. In this regard, it isn't only drones that the National Park Service is concerned about but also things like model airplanes and quadcopters. It also doesn't matter whether these are being used for recreational or commercial purposes. The only unmanned aircraft that the National Park Services says this rule doesn't apply to are those that are being flown by emergency services and government officials. However, you can request a special permit to fly your drone here. The National Park Service states that they've established this policy for the safety and protection of anyone visiting the park as well as for the resources that are located within its boundaries.
Since Death Valley is located in the jurisdiction of a National Park, you can't launch or land your drone there. This law is true for the majority of national parks today.
Flying Your Drone Over Death Valley
Since you can't launch or land your drone in Death Valley National Park you may wonder if you're still able to fly your drone over the park legally. This is something that a lot of drone pilots have paused to consider today since there isn't anything in the law that pertains to this. The only thing the law clearly states is that you can't "launch" or "land" there.
Technically what this means is that you'll still be able to fly your drone over National Park areas such as Death Valley. You simply can't operate your drone from any location within the park itself. If you look close enough at the documentation that is found within the National Park Service's website you'll even find some places where they themselves state that you can fly over but not in these parks. However, you must find a suitable location from where you can launch and land your drone. This location can't be located anywhere on the National Park's land. Abiding by this rule, some people have managed to capture some amazing pictures and footage of Death Valley.
Why You Can’t Fly Drones in National Parks
Now that you know you're dealing with a legal issue whereby it's been clearly stated that you can't launch or land your drone in a National Park, you may find yourself wondering why such a law exists. After all, drones aren't only a lot of fun to fly but they're a great piece of technology for photographers and videographers to use to capture aerial shots. Unfortunately, despite how great drones may be, members of the National Park Service have also recognized that these can not only disturb those who are visiting the park but also the wildlife that lives therein.
The ban regarding launching and landing drones inside of a National Park was first initiated in 2014. At this time there were several incidents that were deemed problematic by the National Park Service. One of the main issues that they had that led to this ban occurred when people who weren't flying drones started to have their enjoyment of the park disturbed by drone operators. Not only were people complaining that the drones themselves were quite noisy but oftentimes their pilots would interfere with how they were able to view and enjoy themselves while inside of the park.
Since 2014 there have been a lot of drone pilots who've attempted to argue with the National Park Service regarding this ban. They've suggested that they should be allowed to fly their drones within the parks as long as they avoid flying in any area that's heavily populated. Unfortunately, this isn't something that the National Park Service has been accepting of because they aren't only concerned regarding people's peace and enjoyment while in their parks, but they're also concerned about the area's natural inhabitants, the animals. One of the National Park Service's considerations may be that since 2014 drones have grown increasingly more popular so they may feel that these issues would be even worse in their parks today.
Even if drone pilots were to avoid densely populated areas, they may still interfere with the animals who call these parks home. There are many unfortunate instances when this has happened. One example of such an instance occurred within the borders of the Zion National Park. Here the drone and its pilot interfered with a herd of bighorn sheep. In doing so the drone managed to separate several of these young sheep from the adults. This caused the National Park's rangers to become alarmed because whenever sheep lose their parents they die easily. Whether the drone's pilot didn't notice that this had happened or simply didn't care, it was still enough of an issue that the law regarding National Parks being a no-fly zone was implemented. Since this is something that happened in 2014 National Parks argues that with the increased number of drones being used today it's something that would be an even bigger issue now.
How to get a Permit to Fly Your Drone in a National Park
While there have been some instances where the National Park Service has issued drone operators permits to fly within the borders of the National Park this has mainly been done to help with scientific studies and research. There have also been instances where drones have been allowed to help with search and rescue operations, fire operations, and law enforcement.
More than likely you won't have your request to fly inside of a National Park approved if you just want to take aerial photos – even if they're for commercial use. If you're interested in flying a drone for the good of science you must first secure written permission from the National Park Service. Once you've received written permission, you must then call the National Park that you intend to fly your drone in to ensure that you won't have any problems with them while doing so.
Unfortunately, to get this permit and permission requires you to abide by some very specific conditions. These are outlined in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Advisory Circular 91-57 and Section 336 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2012. This Act allows some unmanned aircraft to fly within the National Park saying that the reason they're allowed to do so is for administrative use. The National Park states that administrative use can by members of the National Park Service itself or someone with whom the National Park Service is cooperating. For instance, if you're with a government agency or a university and have a written agreement with the National Park Service, you'll be allowed to fly your drone in Death Valley. The National Park Service also allows for other entities (e.g. businesses) to fly drones in this area if they're conducting official business for the park.
Regardless of which of these entities is given permission to fly within Death Valley, they must remain in compliance with all requirements set forth by the FAA and Department of the Interior. This means that drones can only launch, land, and operate in areas that the National Park Service has indicated in writing.
What Happens if You Fly a Drone in a National Park Without a Permit
While you may argue that the National Park Service has simply stated that you can't launch or land your drone on any property owned by Death Valley, in reality, you may not want to take the chance of flying your drone there at all. If you're caught flying a drone on National Park property you may be fined up to $5,000 and have to serve up to 6 months in jail. Unfortunately, the National Park Service has been known to issue a lot of these fines but they won't usually impose the maximum amount on a drone operator. You should also know that if you're caught flying your drone in Death Valley without a permit the National Park's rangers can confiscate it and any of the equipment you're using.
Many people thought that they could plead "ignorantia juris non excusat" or "ignorantia legis neminem excusat" but just because you don't know the law doesn't mean you won't be held accountable by it. Therefore, it probably isn't worth taking the risk of flying your drone in Death Valley.
Unfortunately, it's illegal for you to launch, fly, or land your drone in Death Valley. This is because the area is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. To be able to fly your drone in any of the National Parks you have to have a special permit that grants you permission for doing so. Without this permit, you're subject to some strict fines, the possibility of serving time in jail, and you may also have your drone and its gear confiscated. It isn't worth taking the risk so don't do it.
Shawn Manaher loves to play with new toys and dive into new hobbies. As a serial entrepreneur, work definitely comes first but there is always room for hobbies.