In San Juan, Puerto Rico is a residential district known as Viejo San Juan or Old San Juan.
Here, you can find buildings that date back to the 16th century, so the area certainly lives up to its name! With so much beauty abounding, you’re likely eager to fly your drone here.
Can you fly a drone in Old San Juan?
According to Puerto Rico drone law, throughout most of Old San Juan, you can legally use your drone, but remain on the lookout for airports and don’t fly within five miles of them. You can’t also fly a drone in the San Juan National Historic Site in Old San Juan, which is 75.13 acres of land.
In this article, we’ll talk further about where in Old San Juan you can use your drone versus where you can’t. Before you jet off to Puerto Rico, make sure you read the great info we have coming up!
Can you fly a drone in Old San Juan?
Declared Puerto Rico’s oldest settlement, Old San Juan features an assortment of castles, buildings, and other architecture that’s stood for centuries. The city also boasts stone and brick buildings with flat roofs and cobblestone roads.
As a part of the United States, Puerto Rico follows FAA drone laws. Under those laws, drones can fly in Puerto Rico, including Old San Juan.
However, as we mentioned in the intro and will talk more about in the next section, you’re prohibited from entering the San Juan National Historic Site with your drone.
That’s not all. You also cannot fly within five miles of an airport. Several are in the area, including the San Juan Isla Grande Airport (also known as the Fernando Luis Ribas Dominicci Airport) a mere 2.2 kilometers or 1.37 miles away.
A little further out, there’s the San Juan Airport 12.2 kilometers or 7.58 miles away, then the Roosevelt Roads Airport (also known as the Jose Aponte Hernandez Airport) 56.3 kilometers or 34.9 miles away.
If you keep venturing out, the Vieques Airport (also known as the Antonio Rivera Rodriguez Airport) is 75.9 kilometers or 47.2 miles away.
The spacing of the airports makes it a little trickier to plan where to fly your drone, so you’ll have to find a slice of Old San Juan without an airport five miles away.
To keep all this information straight, a drone map will be your best friend!
If you own a DJI drone, your UAV will fly in Warning Zones but not in restricted airspace. Other drone models don’t do the same, so it’s up to you to know where the no-fly zones are.
Can you fly a drone at the San Juan National Historic Site?
The National Park Service manages the San Juan National Historic Site. This part of Old San Juan includes portions of an ancient city wall, powder houses, bastions, and forts from the colonial era, including Castillo San Felipe del Morro.
According to this NPS page: “San Juan National Historic Site advises visitors that the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (Drones) are prohibited within park boundaries due to regulations outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).
Specifically, the use of drones within the park boundaries is illegal under all circumstances. 36 CFR 1.5 Closures and public use limits and 36 CFR 2.17(a)(3) states, ‘delivering or retrieving a person or object by parachute, helicopter, or other airborne means, except in emergencies involving public safety or serious property loss, or pursuant to the terms and conditions of a permit’ is illegal. This applies to drones of all shapes and sizes.”
NPR stepped in because, according to them, more drones have begun appearing in the San Juan National Historic Site.
The NPR further states that drones can make a lot of noise and disrupt the “natural landscape” of the area.
Further, the NPR says drones can interfere with emergency operations, negatively impact wildlife, and reduce a visitor’s enjoyment of the area.
No exceptions to this rule exist, so there’s no permit you can apply for or special exceptions.
You’ll have to carefully review your drone map to stay outside of the parameters of the San Juan National Historic Site when visiting Old San Juan with your drone.
Old San Juan drone rules to know before your flight
Before you launch your drone in Old San Juan, make sure you read up on these drone rules. They’ll ensure a safe, legal flight.
Only bring your drone in your carry-on
You don’t have to go through customs with your drone when traveling to Puerto Rico, but you still must pass TSA agents.
They’ll check for your drone, so don’t keep it anywhere else but in your carry-on bag.
You must have a valid license and registration for your drone
The FAA requires that all drone pilots have a valid license before taking to the skies.
Commercial pilots must study and take the Part 107 exam, which quizzes you on the entirety of the FAA’s drone regulations.
You’ll pay each time you take the test, so it behooves you to pass the first time. You’ll need a score of 70 percent to do so.
Then you’re issued the Remote Pilot Certificate, which expires two years from the date you receive it in the mail. Before then, take the FAA’s free online recertifying exam, especially if you plan on traveling soon.
Hobbyists also need to take an exam known as The Recreational UAS Safety Test or TRUST exam for short. You won’t pay to take this exam, and it’s done online. You can also change wrong answers while you take the test.
Once the FAA issues you the TRUST license, it never expires.
You’ll probably have to register your drone while you’re at it. Commercial pilots must always register drones while hobbyists only have to register drones weighing 0.55 pounds and up.
Give manned aircraft the right of way
Since you’re supposed to stay five miles from the nearest airport, your risk of running into manned aircraft is low.
Nevertheless, if you encounter a manned aircraft, as a drone pilot, you’re supposed to always provide the right of way.
Do not fly faster than 100 miles per hour or more than 400 feet
You’re capped at both your speed and altitude when operating a drone under FAA regulations. You cannot ascend above 400 feet from the ground, and your UAV speed should not surpass 100 miles per hour.
Only operate your drone during daylight hours
Take your time exploring Old San Juan, but only have your drone out and in the sky during daylight hours.
Keep eyes on your drone
Drone pilots must keep a visual line of sight on their UAVs the entire time they’re flying.
Whether you wear contacts, glasses, or nothing on your eyes at all, you must be able to see your drone in front of you. Using binoculars does not count.
Do not fly over people or moving vehicles
The FAA’s Operations over People and Operations over Moving Vehicles laws limit how you operate your drone.
Let’s start with Operations over People. Drones under 0.55 pounds can fly nearer crowds, but heavier drones cannot. You can also fly near people if they’re aware you’re using your drone and consent to it.
The Operations over Moving Vehicles law prohibits pilots from using a drone near any moving vehicle. However, you can fly your drone near a stationary vehicle if the people in that vehicle agree to it.
Don’t launch a drone that exceeds 55 pounds
You cannot legally fly if your drone weighs more than 55 pounds. Reduce its payload or downsize your drone, but don’t take to the skies of Old San Juan.
Old San Juan is a part of Puerto Rico steeped in history. The city allows drone pilots to operate but only in certain areas.
You must stay five miles from the many airports that dot this historic city. You’re also prohibited from bringing your drone into the San Juan National Historic Site according to NPS guidelines.
1. NPS (link)