Can I Fly My Drone In National Parks?

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What Are National Parks?

National parks are lands protected by a sovereign state to which they belong. The most common reasons for declaring a part of the country a national park are conservation of natural wonders and wilderness. They’re called ‘national parks’ because country’s native people usually take great pride in these special parts of their territory. The idea is to preserve some of the most beautiful parts of our world from any kind of negative human impact. So, these places get the most attention when it comes to environmental protection. We’re supposed to visit these parks and merge with nature, become one with it once again, and leave our traces in the form of footprints, not cigarette buds and every other kind of trash we produce uncontrollably.

Why Do Drones Impose Such A Threat to Nature?

Imagine sitting under a tree and reading a book in a beautiful Estonian forest. Or just holding hands with your soulmate and enjoying a wonderful walk around a small lake in France. Now, if you add 50 drones buzzing around, the dreamy picture disappears in a pillar of smoke. We really should be able to go somewhere and find that peace and quiet, and not just that! Nowadays more and more people are trying hard to escape technology and everything else that reminds them that there’s a very busy world out there, to which they have to return. On the U.S. National Park Service there’s an article that deals with the problem of noise and they say that in the 63% of protected areas noise masks more than a half of the pure sounds of nature. All of this noise surely affects the wild life, and we should try to reduce it, not just for us, but also because animals rely only on their senses!

The human endeavor to discover everything about our world has repeatedly led to some natural treasures being destroyed, species being extinct and our waters and earth polluted beyond recall. Maybe drones look small and unthreatening, but if we learned something from history, it’s that more caution was always needed, and we’ve been reckless more than this planet could sustain. For now, the biologists have noticed that drones affect the birds, especially during the nesting period. On the other hand, you can find many videos of birds viciously attacking drones, so flying over or through forests wouldn’t be safe for your drone either. And when it comes to pollution, we can’t prevent our drones from crashing from time to time, so it would be very inconvenient for you and the nature if your drone fell somewhere where you just can’t reach it. There’s no doubt that after some time there would be a serious amount of wreckages scattered in our woods, rivers, lakes and canyons. Also, there are drones which run on gas (not all of them have electric engines), and they produce some amount of exhaust gases. Obviously, it would be a tragedy if we started polluting that fresh air..

Laws and Regulations

If you’re a photographer and a nature enthusiast, and you also happen to have a drone, you’re gonna get a big frown when we tell you that it is probably prohibited to fly an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in national parks.

One of the rare countries which have already made all the rules is the United States of America. The U.S. National Park Service has issued a memorandum in which it’s stated that launching, flying and landing an unmanned aircraft from or on lands and waters administered by the National Park Service is prohibited. It’s fairly simple and there are no loopholes. In the USA, drones are used in national parks for scientific research and aerial mapping (they’ve even been used for extinguishing fires), but special permissions are given in these cases. If you really really want to take a nice picture or record a video using your drone, and you believe in your cause, you can apply for a special permission from the superintendent of the park. But, bear in mind that there are no known cases of people getting this permit without a really serious goal (as serious as a scientific research). Also, Federal Aviation Administration made the Part 107 drone pilot test which you can pass to obtain the Remote Pilot Airman Certificate. This certificate may give you a higher chance that they’ll take you seriously and to be regarded as a professional. Federal Aviation Administration even states that you need to have this certificate to fly commercially! There are courses that you can take to prepare yourself for this test and they cost around 150$. You should also prepare all the details in advance, like the exact date and time of your flight, the equipment details, etc. If you get the permission from the superintendent of the park, you should always have it on your person, in case someone asks for a proof that you’re allowed to fly. You should take all of this very seriously, because if you get caught flying your drone without permission in some national park, you may be sentenced to pay a fine of up to 5,000$! They won’t accept any excuses and you can’t prove that you didn’t know the rules or that you didn’t know that you were on the territory of a national park. There are cool websites (like AirMap) which you can use to check if flying is safe and permitted in your area, so be sure to always check in, and you can have a carefree flight.

For the rest of the world, everything is not so clear and orderly. The European Aviation Safety Agency issued a poster on which they present the ‘do’s and don’ts’ that you should obey if you want to fly your drone safely. However, they don’t say anything about national parks on that poster, but on their website they do say that they intentionally left these decisions to EASA Member States, so you should check which areas are prohibited in the country you’re in! Unfortunately, it’s most likely that it’s forbidden to fly a drone in national parks. Unmanned aerial vehicles are still kind of new, so it’s easier and safer to just forbid everything, than face the risk of people damaging nature so much (again) that it needs centuries to erase our traces.

In Asia, these laws are much more loose, and it seems as though these countries don’t take drones so seriously. For example, in Russia you need to submit a flight plan to the Transport Agency, but they don’t say anything specific about national parks. Also, apparently, in China it’s restricted to fly a drone near or in Beijing or Shanghai, but for the parts of the country that are less developed they’re unconcerned, to say the least. In Japan, it’s only forbidden to fly in parks within Osaka and Tokyo. It’s obvious that there’s a tendency to protect nature and people in the huge cities. That’s not a big surprise since it’s really hard to imagine how they would be able to control such things over their vast territories which contain many undiscovered and isolated areas. On the other hand, in the most of undeveloped countries, there are no drone laws yet. Obviously, in Africa almost all of the countries don’t have any laws concerning drones. There are great websites (like Drone Law) on which you can find information for every country! But always check the government websites also, if there’s an English version or you speak the native language – that’s the best way to find your answers.

To Sum Things Up

In the most of the well developed countries, it’s forbidden to fly drones in national parks. If you’re not sure if you should ‘spread those wings’, don’t, because you might face some serious violation charges! Luckily, you can probably check with some authorities, or just find out searching the internet. If you can’t fly your drone, don’t be sad. We all get a high when we take an amazing picture, and it’s really nice when your photo gets published by National Geographic or some similar magazine or website. But as much as we document the beauty of the nature, there’s nothing like experiencing it on our own! So, leave your drone at home, and enjoy that stroll!