As arguably the most popular natural landmark in the United States (or darn near close, anyway), the Grand Canyon needs no introduction. You may have visited here once or many times before, and this time you wish to bring your drone.
Are drones allowed at the Grand Canyon?
Drones are strictly prohibited at the Grand Canyon without a special use permit from the National Park Service. Other exceptions for drone use include scientific research, search and rescue, law enforcement, and fire operations.
In today’s informational guide, we’ll take you through all the rules about drone flights in the Grand Canyon so you can plan accordingly.
There’s lots of great information ahead, so make sure you don’t miss it!
Can you fly a drone in the Grand Canyon?
The full name of the Grand Canyon is Grand Canyon National Park. Like all national parks in the United States, the Grand Canyon is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.
In its Laws & Policies for the Grand Canyon, the National Park Service states the following:
“Currently, the use of drones is prohibited in Grand Canyon and all National Parks.”
This is according to the 2014 Policy Memorandum 14-05, which applies broadly to national parks.
In the Conditions and Exceptions section of the policy, the following allowances for drone use are included:
- Drones used “for hobbyist and recreational use at locations and under conditions (i) established by the superintendent in the compendium; or (ii) issued under a special use permit” if the pilot had written permission before June 2014 when Policy Memorandum 14-05 went into effect.
- Written Associate Director, Visitor and Resource Protection permission to use a drone “for such purposes as scientific study, search and rescue operations, fire operations, and law enforcement.”
- Using a drone with a Scientific Research and Collecting Permit “that specifically authorizes launching, landing, or operating an unmanned aircraft and is approved in writing by the ADVRP in consultation with the Associate Director for Natural Resource Stewardship and Science.”
- Using a drone with a special use permit.
Unless you can go back in time or you happen to have written permission to fly your drone in the Grand Canyon from before 2014, then the first option is out. The second option applies more to agency than recreational or commercial pilots, so that’s also out.
You might be able to obtain a Scientific Research and Collecting Permit depending on your commercial background.
More than likely, if you’re granted any kind of commercial flight permission at all, it’d be through the special use permit or SUP.
How to obtain a special use permit to fly a drone in the Grand Canyon
A SUP, as the National Park Service says in Policy Memorandum 14-05, “specifically authorizes launching, landing, or operating an unmanned aircraft and that is approved in writing by the Associate Director, Visitor and Resource Protection (ADVRP).”
Only supervisors can decide which drone pilots are eligible to receive SUPs and which aren’t. Even then, they still have to go through the ADVRP, which will make the final approval.
There are a series of criteria that the superintendent and ADVRP will follow together to ultimately decide if drones are permissible at the Grand Canyon.
Let’s go over that criteria now.
1. Will the drone use conflict with “other existing uses” of the park?
While drone usage will always be perceived by some as a nuisance, both at the Grand Canyon and in other US national parks, the ADVRP and superintendent seek instances of “significant conflict” as impediments to granting drone use approval.
2. Will the drone act as a “clear and present danger to public health and safety?”
Even if you fly your drone perfectly, always abiding by the rules and never getting too close to people or structures, it’s not your choice whether your drone is perceived as a public health and safety danger.
3. Will the drone “impair the operation of public facilities or services of NPS concessioners or contractors?”
In other words, will the drone get in the way of other permitted National Park Service duties at Grand Canyon National Park? If yes, then your SUP request will surely be turned down.
4. Will the drone “unreasonably interfere with…program activities, or…the administrative activities of the NPS?
From visitor services to interpretative programs, you won’t be issued a SUP if your drone is deemed to interrupt these and the National Park Service’s administrative activities at Grand Canyon National Park.
5. Will the drone go against “the purposes for which the park was established?”
This is a trickier one. The Grand Canyon has stood for millions of years and long predates flying vehicles of any kind, let alone the unmanned variety. That alone suggests that using a drone in the park goes against its original purposes.
The National Park Service does add that the superintendent and ADVRP will also decide whether permitted drone use would “unacceptably impact the atmosphere of peace and tranquility maintained in wilderness, natural, historic, or commemorative locations in the park.”
That’s a little more cut and dried than going against the park’s established purposes.
6. Will the drone damage park resources?
Hopefully, the answer to this question is always no! Then again, we just talked about how drones often end up in the geysers of Yellowstone National Park.
Even if you do the right thing as a drone pilot, you can’t always count on others to do the same.
7. Will the drone use go against commercial FAA regulations?
You should know FAA drone laws inside and out before operating a drone in the Grand Canyon just to ensure you don’t shoot yourself in the foot (figuratively, of course) when trying to obtain a SUP.
Drone laws when flying around the Grand Canyon
The following section combines the National Park Service’s rules when using a drone with a SUP in a national park like the Grand Canyon and the FAA’s drone laws.
Learn these laws and know them well!
You must have a valid drone license
We’re only going to talk about commercial drone pilots in this section since recreational drone use around Grand Canyon National Park is prohibited, and it seems highly unlikely that hobbyists would be granted SUPs.
Commercial pilots must carry a current Remote Pilot Certificate, an official drone license issued by the FAA. You’re eligible to obtain your Remote Pilot Certificate once you turn 16 years old.
To do so, you must register to take the Part 107 exam at an FAA-approved testing center near you. Each exam attempt costs money, but you can repeat the exam as many times as it takes to pass.
The questions are all presented in multiple-choice format, and there are 60. You’re given two and a half hours to answer them. You’re expected to learn a score of 70 percent to pass the exam.
The Remote Pilot Certificate expires two years from the date it’s issued to you. At that point, you’re eligible to take the FAA’s free online recertification exam.
You must register your drone
Commercial pilots are required to register all drones in their fleet with the FAA. The registration fee is $5 apiece. The registration will expire in three years.
You must have liability insurance
The National Park Service requires that before you launch your drone into the sky that you have “sufficient liability insurance,” although Policy Memorandum 14-05 doesn’t delve deeper into what constitutes sufficient insurance.
Barring that, you must have proof of membership to the Academy of Model Aeronautics or a similar organization that offers insurance coverage as part of your membership.
Your drone must always stay within your visual line of sight
We’re sure you wouldn’t want to lose your drone in the Grand Canyon, so always keep it within your visual line of sight. You must be able to see your drone with your naked eye (and that includes using contacts or glasses).
You must report any injurious drone accidents to the NPS
If you or any passersby are injured using your drone at Grand Canyon National Park, the National Park Service requires you to report it. That goes for injuries where you only apply minor first aid too.
Any property damage incurred from your drone flight must similarly be reported.
You cannot fly over vehicles or people
The National Park Service aligns with the FAA’s Operations Over People and Operations Over Moving Vehicles laws.
According to the Operations Over People law, unless parkgoers participate in your drone flight, you must not fly over them unless you have a lightweight drone.
Operations Over Moving Vehicles prohibits pilots from flying a drone over moving vehicles. You can use your drone around stationary vehicles if the people in the vehicle agree to participate in your drone operations.
Do not endanger the lives of others with your drone
This law should go without saying, but we want to mention it anyway. You should never fly your drone recklessly, no matter how empty the area where you’re flying is (not that you should expect the Grand Canyon to be empty!).
You should also never put others’ lives at risk with your drone.
You must have an operator if you’re inexperienced
The National Park Service requires “inexperienced unmanned aircraft operators” to fly with a more experienced drone operator.
Only use your drone when not under the influence of drugs or alcohol
When operating a drone in the Grand Canyon and elsewhere, you should always be of a clear mind. If substances such as drugs and/or alcohol have impeded that, then don’t use your drone! It’s too big of a risk.
Do not interfere with emergency operations
Any emergency operations you might see at the park, such as law enforcement and search and rescue by the National Park Service or another entity, is not to be interrupted by your drone at any point.
Do not harass or disturb wildlife
Wildlife is plentiful at the Grand Canyon, including rodents, birds, reptiles, gray foxes, coyotes, mountain lions, mule deer, and desert bighorn sheep.
Ideally, you should keep your distance from these creatures when using your drone. You should certainly never harass or disturb wildlife with your drone per both the National Park Service and FAA!
Grand Canyon National Park is typically off-limits to drone pilots per National Park Service regulations, with some exceptions. If you’re using your drone for scientific research purposes, you might be granted permission to fly.
You can also request a special use permit or SUP, but the superintendent and ADVRP must go through a laundry list of criteria to decide of your drone is eligible.
If you’re ever allowed to fly near the Grand Canyon, always abide by FAA guidelines and National Park Service rules!
1. Grand Canyon National Park (link)
2. Policy Memorandum 14-05 (link)