It can be a lot of fun to fly a drone. However, you need to make sure that you follow the law’s regulations when you do so. So, does this mean you can fly a drone in Hawaii and if so where?
Hawaii has several laws that you must follow if you want to fly your drone there. For instance, you must register your drone if it weighs over 0.55 lbs. As long as you follow the law you can fly your drone in many places including Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head, Waimea Waterfall, and Hanauma Bay.
Federal Drone Flight Rules in Hawaii
With the beauty of Hawaii, it’s no wonder so many people want to fly a drone there. However, it’s important for you to be a responsible drone pilot which means following the rules while in the air there. Unfortunately, Hawaii’s rules aren’t simple. They have a lot of regulations from federal, state, and local authorities. For most people, this means spending a few hours reading through state and federal websites.
In your reading here you’ll find that while the land belongs to local authorities, the FAA has the right to make rules regarding drone operation. In fact, the FAA says that they can overrule state and local laws when it comes to how drones use airspace. This isn’t something that most people question considering Congress has given the FAA authority over aviation safety, airspace, and air traffic control. The reason this is important to understand is that even the National Park Service is restricted by the rules that are made by the FAA in regards to airspace.
While most parks don’t admit that the FAA is in charge when you read through their FAQ regarding drone use you’ll see that this is true. This is why you can’t get around their rules simply by launching your drone from somewhere else.
Local Drone Flight Laws in Hawaii
Hawaii doesn’t currently have much local legislation in regard to drone flight. They have tried to pass a few regulations throughout the years though. For instance, in 2019 there was SB622 which sought to prohibit certain types of drone activities and it also urged Congress and the FAA to allow local authorities to regulate the use of drones. Then in 2021, they introduced HB448 and SB680 which said that drone use were invasions of privacy.
Currently, Hawaii doesn’t have any specific laws that restrict drone use anywhere except in their state parks and on natural area reserves.
Flying Your Drone in Hawaii’s Reserves
State forest reserves cover a lot more area in Hawaii than the national parks do. There are some very scenic areas that are covered here – ones that would be ideal for drone flight. For instance, Mauna Kea is a forest reserve and contains some spectacular landscapes. Fortunately, forest reserves aren’t currently off-limits but there are some proposed rule changes (O13-146-9) underway that may make it so you’d need a permit to fly a drone there. If this rule does pass, you’d need to have written permission to launch any type of aircraft (including drones) from this area.
Flying Your Drone in Hawaii’s State Parks
According to Title 13, Subtitle 6, Chapter 146 nobody is allowed to fly their drone in state parks under any circumstances. While the state parks have said this, they’re simply repeating what had already been said by the FAA. State parks have signs that will serve as reminders of this rule.
Flying Your Drone on Hawaii’s Big Island
The big island is named this for good reason – it covers the majority of the area in Hawaii. When you plan to fly your drone here one of the biggest issues you’ll have is in regard to there being an airport as well as both state and national parks there. If the forest reserves also become a no-flight zone, then most of this island will be off-limits. Until then there are some areas you may want to know about.
The lands that are above 12,000 feet here are managed by the University of Hawaii and the Office of Maunakea Management (OMKM: the ones responsible for managing the Maunakea Science Reserve). They’ve designated this area and the access road above the visitor center at Hale Pohaku as a no-fly zone.
In January 2020 the Mauna Kea public access rules were signed by Governor Ige. These rules specifically prohibit the use of drones on university-managed property unless you have a permit for doing so. This removes the ambiguity regarding whether drones could be flown at Mauna Kea’s summit. Now it’s clearly stated that drones can’t be flown here and park rangers now have a legal foundation for enforcing a rule that they’d already been enforcing prior to this regulation. There are stiff fines for anyone who doesn’t request a permit from OMKM to fly on Mauna Kea. Unfortunately, they’ve been known to deny most of these requests.
Akaka Falls and Hapuna Beach
Both of these state parks are areas where you can’t launch or land a drone. Otherwise, they have no rules so they’re open for flying which is great news considering there are a lot of great beaches and attractive areas here. If you do get caught flying here, you may be harassed by the parks’ employees or told that what you’re doing is illegal but these folks are being overzealous considering there are no rule rules regarding this topic.
You do need to remember that the big resorts are private property though. This means that each of them can establish its own policies regarding drones. It’s just the beach and shoreline that are considered public property here, even if they’re in front of private land. So, while you may be harassed by the resorts’ security, they really don’t have any legal rights to stop you from flying your drone on the beach there.
The Kona and Kohala Coastlines
Except for the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, you can fly your drone here. This is true for both the Waipio Valley and Pololu. If you do decide to fly your drone over the waterfall you need to be on the lookout for sightseeing helicopters that fly quite low over the top of the waterfalls here.
You can fly your drone in most of this area. However, you can’t fly around the summit caldera or a piece of land that’s located on the south side of Mauna Loa which is considered a part of the national park.
Hilo and Kona north of Honokohau Harbor
This entire area is located near an airport which means that you’d need LAANC clearance in accordance with FAA rules. However, if you want to fly around Kona or Kailua Bay you can do it.
The Port at Kawaihae
Since this is considered critical infrastructure, you should probably consider the area a no-fly zone. The same is also true of the areas around the HELCO power plants at Keahole and Kanoelehua.
The Military Practice Range at the Pohakuloa Training Area
It should be obvious that this area is off-limits for drones even though it sometimes won’t show up on Airmap.
Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge
Although this large piece of land would be a nice place to fly drones, you’re not allowed to do so.
Ka Lae (South Point) and Green Sands Beaches
You can fly your drone on either of these beaches without worrying about having many restrictions to abide by, especially on the south end of the island.
Questionable Areas in Hawaii
Now that you have a better understanding of the rules that are in place in the Hawaiian islands, you should know that there are a few places that are questionable here.
The first is the area along the Kona coast – from Honaunau to Upolu. Here you’ll find the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail. When you look at a map that’s been produced by the National Park Service you’ll see that this area is marked in red. However, most of the trail isn’t owned by the National Park Service. They only own the historic sites there (e.g. Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, Honokohau, Pu’u Kohala Heiau). The rest of this area doesn’t belong to them. So, while you shouldn’t launch or land your drone on the coastal trail itself you can still fly in this area as long as you’re careful not to stray into any of these other areas while doing so.
Another area where drone flight is questionable is the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. This area covers much of the water off the Kona Coast. It’s illegal to operate your drone within 1,000 feet of a whale in this area according to the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. However, you can still fly your drone along the Kona and Kohala coast.
Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with some of the laws regarding drone flight in Hawaii it’s time to take flight. As long as you only fly in the areas that are legal you’ll be able to take some beautiful pictures of this area.