Drone User Information
The City of South Lake Tahoe supports the safe operation of drones for recreational use and commercial purposes. Coordination is a must. There are many areas around the airport that are not safe to fly drones due to manned aircraft at low altitudes.
Please use the website link below to determine where you can fly in South Lake Tahoe. A value of “0” means you cannot fly in that particular area without FAA authorization. The values on the map indicate maximum elevation above ground level. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact the airport directly.
Regulation of drones in the hands of civilian pilots took a big step forward on December 14, 2015. The Federal Aviation Administration announced that all units weighing between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds must be registered by February 19th, 2016 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Anyone caught flying without proper registration after that date could face stiff penalties. The FAA says civil penalties include a fine of up to $27,500. Criminal penalties include a fine of up to $250,000 and up to three years in jail.
UAS come in a variety of shapes and sizes and serve diverse purposes. Regardless of size, the responsibility to fly safely applies equally to manned and unmanned aircraft operations.
Currently, small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) may be operated for hobby and recreational purposes under specific safety guidelines as established by Congress. Small UAS flown for recreational purposes are typically known as model aircraft and weigh less than 55 lbs.
The recreational use of sUAS is the operation of an unmanned aircraft for personal interests and enjoyment. For example, using a sUAS to take photographs for your own personal use would be considered recreational; using the same device to take photographs or videos for compensation or sale to another individual would be considered a commercial operation and fall under a separate set of regulations. You should check with the FAA for further determination as to what constitutes commercial or other non-hobby, non-recreational sUAS operations.
Under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (PDF), recreational UAS must be operated in accordance with several requirements, including a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) (PDF). Operators not operating within the safety program of a community-based organization should follow the FAA’s guidance at Know Before You Fly.
The FAA has partnered with several industry associations to promote Know Before You Fly, a campaign to educate the public about using unmanned aircraft safely and responsibly. Individuals flying for hobby or recreation are strongly encouraged to follow safety guidelines, which include: As a general rule these are the “big” federal guidelines for drone use:
- Fly at or below 400 feet and stay away from surrounding obstacles
- Keep your UAS within sight
- Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports
- Never fly over groups of people
- Never fly over stadiums or sports events
- Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires
- Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Understand airspace restrictions and requirements
- WHEN THERE IS FIRE FIGHTING OR AN EMERGENCY IN PROGRESS THE USE OF DRONES ANYWHERE NEAR THE SITE OF THE EMERGENCY IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED
For information on drone flying and safe drone operation, please visit the following links:
For the public to file a complaint about illegal drone activities with the Federal Aviation Administration use this link: File Drone Report
All drones between 0.55 lbs and 55 lbs must register with the Federal Aviation Administration use this link: Drone Registration Form
Tons of your questions are answered in this FAA FAQ
Current Laws Governing the Operation of UAS by the Federal Government: Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Regulations & Policies
Restricted Drone Zones Around Lake Tahoe:
Red areas indicate state parks & wilderness; orange areas indicate Class E airspace
California State Parks – PROHIBITED
As of publication, the California State Parks website says that recreational drones are allowed in California State Parks except where posted. This is not entirely accurate.
Recreational drone flying is illegal in all California State Parks, as well as desolation wilderness, and classified as a dangerous recreational activity under California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 4319. The chief ranger for the Lake Tahoe sector was also recently quoted in the news stating that they’re prohibited here.
Locations where you may not fly your drone in Lake Tahoe California State Parks include:
- Emerald Bay State Park
- D.L. Bliss State Park
- Sugar Pine Point State Park
- Burton Creek State Park
- Kings Beach State Recreation Area
Lake Valley State Recreation Area and Washoe Meadows State Park also lie within the Lake Tahoe Airport Class E Surface area where flights can be restricted by the Lake Tahoe Airport.
Nevada State Parks – PROHIBITED
Nevada’s official policy does not allow any recreational drone flying from Nevada state parks. Lake Tahoe State Park includes:
- Sand Harbor
- Cave Rock
- Spooner Lake
- Marlette Lake
- Tunnel Creek & The Flume Trail
- All shoreline from the Ponderosa to Bonsai Rock (Bonsai Rock does lie just outside of the boundary)
Wilderness Areas – PROHIBITED
The Wilderness Act (PDF) prohibits motorized vehicles in congressionally-designated wilderness areas. This includes aircraft/drones.
Wilderness included in this restriction in the Tahoe area:
- Mount Rose Wilderness
- Mokelumne Wilderness
- Carson-Iceberg Wilderness
- Desolation Wilderness
- Granite Chief Wilderness
National Forest – ALLOWED (But prohibited in Wilderness)
There are currently no restrictions for flying in strictly National Forest land, unless it is a designated wilderness area. National Forest land makes up the majority of land around Lake Tahoe.
Municipal areas – ALLOWED
No towns in the Lake Tahoe area outright prohibit drone flying yet. However, some of these areas fall within airport Class E Surface areas.
Please respect the privacy of others. In California, for example, you can be prosecuted for flying over someone else’s backyard.
Best practices for flying in populated areas:
- Always fly over “public” land, not private homes or businesses
- Do not fly directly over people
- Always keep your drone in sight
Airports – RESTRICTED
Lake Tahoe airport in South Lake Tahoe and Truckee-Tahoe airport in Truckee have Class E Surface areas that overlap their respective towns.
- Hobbyist flyers: you must notify airport management before you fly in this area. They reserve the right to tell you that you can’t fly.
- Part 107 flyers: you must get an airspace authorization from the FAA before flying in these areas. You can only do this from the FAA UAS Web Portal.
UAV Guidance for Law Enforcement (Click Here to Open PDF)
Contact Information for Questions Regarding Federal Control of the National Airspace System in California & Nevada.
Western-Pacific Region Office of the Regional Counsel
P.O. Box 92007 Los Angeles, CA 90009
Tel: (310) 725-7100 (Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada)
Contact Information for Filing a Complaint about a Pilot Flying an Aircraft/Drone in an Unsafe Manner
Reno Flight Standards District Office
5466 Longley Lane
Reno, Nevada 89511
Tel: (775) 858-7700 / Fax: (775) 858-7737