What Happens if You Fly a Drone Above 400 Feet

What Happens if You Fly a Drone Above 400 Feet?

Drones, in recent years, have increased as more and more people are now using them for various purposes. On the other hand, various regulatory bodies have set rules that must be adhered to by all pilots.

One of the rules that is common in most regions prohibits flying drones above 400 feet. So, what happens if you fly a drone above 400 feet?

The 400-foot limit is to prevent collisions between crewed aircraft and remote aerial drones. Therefore, when you fly above the 400-foot limit, you risk causing an inflight collision.

You risk being fined or arrested when caught flying drones above the 400-foot limit.

As a licensed drone pilot and drone enthusiast I would be sharing with you more reasons why this rule is there in most regions, the consequences you could incur for not abiding, and more.

What Happens if You Fly a Drone Above 400 Feet?

Several things happen when you fly above the 400 feet.

Increased Risk of Collisions

One risk of flying a drone too high is increased chances of collisions. That’s because drones share the airspace with manned aircraft.

Generally, you should always give way to manned aircraft if they are flying too low. But you should never fly too high that you are at the height they are flying at.

When flying too high you could crash into a plane since you may not have time to evade it. You could also cause the aircraft to go off it’s course and end up crashing or crash-landing, disrupting manned aircraft activities.

Besides posing a danger to yourself and to those in the aircraft and around it, you also risk being arrested and even your license revoked or suspended.

Line of Sight Rule Violation

When your drone is flying above the 400-foot altitude, it becomes challenging to see and, hence, impossible to control.

Whether horizontally or vertically, you are required to always fly your drone within a distance that you can see it, unless you have special authorization to fly EVLOS or BVLOS, where you adhere to a different set of rules.

If you can’t see the drone, it may also be difficult to determine the changes in altitude and if you happen to fly further horizontally, you could crash into other structures.

Loss of Signals

Losing the drone’s signals increases when you fly too far from the drone, both vertically or horizontally.

Many factors could make it difficult to control your drone when it is several feet away from you. For example, wind, barring infrastructures, buildings, and trees, could make it easy to lose a drone’s signal.

On the other hand, bad weather such as fog can weakens the signals. When there’s a loss of signal, controlling your drone becomes difficult.

Based on the settings, once the drone loses signals, it could crash land, ‘Hover and Hold altitude,’ or ‘Return to Home.’

Drone Technology Limitations

Most consumer drones’ have a limited altitude. When a drone flies above this limit, it may lose communication with its controller. The GPS may also become less effective.

The drone is also likely to lose stability since it may not be built to handle the conditions at those altitudes. These issues heighten the possibility of the drone crashing. 

Cold Temperatures

Flying the drone at extremely cold temperatures negatively impacts its performance. Firstly, the drone’s batteries drain faster than at a lower altitude where it’s warmer.

Due to the higher altitudes lowering atmospheric temperatures, the battery drains faster, reducing the flight time. 

The cold temperatures also affect the motors, negatively affecting the drone’s maneuverability or stability.

Strong Winds

Flying the drone at high altitudes makes it susceptible to strong winds, which could make the drone fly away. Since seeing the drone is hard if it is out of the line of sight, a crash could easily take place. 

In addition, the drone battery drains fast when the wind is strong. Even so, drones have different abilities.

Hence, some have higher resistance to wind while others have a lower one.

Below is a table showing the wind resistance of various drones.

Drone ModelWind ResistanceHighest speed
Mavic Air 210.5 m/s19m/s
Parrot Anafi1415
Autel Evo 2 Pro17 -20 m/s20
DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.01020
Mavic Pro Platinum10 m/s18 m/s
DJI Matrice 300 RTK1523
DJI inspire1025
Mavic Mini8 m/s13 m/s
DJI Phantom 4 RTK18*31
Mavic Air10.519 m/s
Mini 210.5 m/s16 m/s

So, get to know the wind resistance level of your drone before flying it at high altitudes.

Penalty for Flying a Drone Over 400 Feet

Penalty for Flying a Drone Over 400 Feet

Various regions have varying regulations. In the USA, for example, the FAA stipulates that flying a drone for criminal reasons could lead to a fine of up to $250,000. Else, you could be imprisoned for at least 3 years.

On the other hand, a civil fine could cost you up to $25,000.

You’ll also be held responsible for any drone damage, injuries, or accidents resulting from flying it at high altitudes.

And, based on the circumstances, the FAA, in conjunction with the local authorities, could seize the drone and withdraw your license.

When Can I Fly a Drone Above 400-Foot Altitude?

When Can I Fly a Drone Above 400-Foot Altitude

Despite the possible risks of flying your drone above the maximum altitude as per the FAA regulations, there are special occasions when you can go beyond the 400-foot limit.

I have had to fly a drone beyond the required limit, but that’s because we had authorization to do so and the project required us to do so due to the undulating landscape.

When flying at high altitudes, you must stay within the 400-foot radius of the tallest topography and structures within your area that exceed 400 feet above ground level (AGL).

Also, install the drone’s app to measure the height of the structures around your flying area. Still, set the ‘Return to Home’ point accordingly before flying the drone.

In addition, study the weather to verify if the wind is too strong for the drone to fly steadily. Check if there are potential collisions with birds, structures, and helicopters by always being aware of your surroundings.

Always avoid flying near radio towers and cell towers, as that could cause signal interference. You could be sued if caught flying the drone around private property restrictions. So, keep off those areas too.

Can Software Stop You From Flying Drones Beyond 400-Foot Altitude?

Can Software Stop You From Flying Drones Beyond 400-Foot Altitude

Based on the settings, the software can stop you from flying the drone above 400 feet.

This is an excellent way to ensure you continuously comply with the rules because when you try to exceed the limits, the software sends a warning or even prevents the drone from flying past the set altitude.

The flying altitude is measured against the takeoff location altitude, which should be the ground level. If the height you see on the display is higher than 400 feet, then the area you’re operating the drone from may have a higher altitude.

Drones, such as the DJI or Autel models, allow you to set a maximum flying altitude, although the company sets it as 400 feet. You can adjust it based on the project at hand, but always make sure you have the necessary authorization.

Once you change the maximum altitude to higher than 400 feet, you’ll also be requested to accept every responsibility associated with exceeding the altitude limit.

Verdict

According to most regulations, a drone’s maximum flying altitude is 400 feet. When you fly a drone above 400 feet, you risk being arrested, fined, or your pilot license revoked.

This rule aims at mainly preventing collisions between crewed aircraft and remote aerial drones. Such a collision could cause damage to properties or cause an accident that results in injury or death of people.

Flying at or below 400-foot altitude makes it possible to control the drone and maintain the line of sight. It also helps avoid collisions with buildings, infrastructures, trees, birds, and aircraft.

However, there are situations that may require you to fly above 400 feet. In such cases, get the necessary authorization and pay attention to the weather, the drone limitations, and always be alert in case manned aircraft appear along your path.

Author
Peter Karanja

Peter is a licensed drone pilot and drone fanatic. He owns a DJI Air 2S that he uses to shoot videos for fun, enjoyment and for clients.

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