If you’re one of the thousands of new drone owners excited to take to the skies, the very first thing you will want to do after unpackaging your new unmanned aircraft is go online and get it registered.
In this article, we provide history and background on how today’s drone registration process came to be.
Back in December of 2015, the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) initiated the law that any UAV operators, whether commercial or hobbyist, would be required to register the unmanned aircraft as a measure of safety and accountability.
“Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiast are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Registration gives us an opportunity to work with these users to operate their unmanned aircraft safely. I’m excited to welcome these new aviators into the culture of safety and responsibility that defines American innovation.”
It might seem strange that a ‘toy’ needs to be registered as a vehicle with the Feds, but the FAA is encouraging the public not to think of drones as toys. They’re aircraft that come with risk and responsibility. Unregistered drone users can be fined anywhere from $27,500 for civil cases, and up to $250,000 for criminal incidents with the possibility of 3 years in jail. It is unlikely you will ever see a fine that large given the history of penalties the last several years, but the FAA has great reasons for the rule.
Why the FAA Wants Drones To Be Registered
Despite the majority of drone pilots operating safely, there are still people who inherently find ways to use drones for illegal activities. Recent sightings of drones flying near airport runways have especially made it clear that drones need to be registered in order to identify their operators. Flying a drone, in many ways is like driving a car—as a remote pilot, we assume responsibility for the aircraft and need a paper trail should our UAV cause damages.
Again, there seems to be a common misconception that unless a drone operator is flying commercially the drone does not need to be registered. That is clearly false, and the only qualifier for whether or not your drone needs to be registered is: does it weigh .55 lbs (250g) or more?
If the answer to that is yes, then your drone will need to be registered regardless of intended use. Interestingly enough, there are many drones weighing less than .55 lbs like the Holy Stone X400C Quadcopter that still has a camera but does not require registration. These drones are generally for young children or curious hobbyists. Drones that weigh less than .55 lbs are understood to be far less likely to cause injury or damages.
A Brand New Industry
The drone industry is effectively brand new, and not only has it been hard to regulate, but it has also been even harder to track down offenders. By personally identifying the remote aircraft, the FAA is attempting to prevent noncompliant drone operations. Registering is incredibly easy, though. Some important information to know is:
- It only costs $5 for you to register.
- You must be 13 years of age or older, otherwise, a parent or legal guardian will need to register it for you.
- If your drone happens to weigh 55 lbs or more, you will be completing a separate registration process that we will discuss below.
- There is only one website on which you can register.
The last bullet point is important. With the industry being so new there has been a lot of misinformation and scammers creating websites that claim to register for you only to cheat you out of $150.
How To Correctly Register Your Drone With The FAA
The FAA offers two avenues for registration and will generally be distinguished by how much your drone weighs.
There is only one website that can officially register your drone, which can be found at the URL: https://faadronezone.faa.gov/. Drones weighing up to 55 lbs can be registered using the website option. This will be the majority of people, and in order to do so you will need several things:
- Your email address, which will also be your login name
- Credit or debit card to complete the payment of $5
- A physical and mailing address (If different from physical)
- The manufacturer and model of your drone
The $5 will be per aircraft and the registration is valid for 3 years.
Mail-in Registrations for Drones over 55 lbs (Paper N-number process)
To register a drone over 55 lbs., you will need to mail the required documents to the FAA, Aircraft Registration Branch. More information on how to register a drone over 55 lbs. under 14 CFR Part 47 is available on the FAA Aircraft Registry web page.
Other circumstances that would require the use of the N-number registration process includes:
- Those who want to qualify a small unmanned aircraft for operation outside the United States
- You hold title to an aircraft in trust
- The small unmanned aircraft owner uses a voting trust to meet U.S. citizenship requirements
Flying drones over 55 lbs is indicative of operations larger than a hobbyist or consumer-grade imaging operation. Drones this heavy are typically very expensive and are built to carry tools and devices for industry-specific operations.
By the time people fly in this category, they will be familiar with the registration process, but for those of you just starting out it’s good to become familiar with the requirements should you plan on upgrading your rig.
What Happens After You Register?
During the registration process, you will be creating an account for yourself with a profile that contains your full name, physical/mailing address, and registration type (hobbyist or commercial). You will also be agreeing to the FAA’s Safety Guidelines which is incredibly important to understand prior to flying.
Upon finishing your registration the FAA will provide you with a unique 10-digit registration number. As of February 25, 2019, the FAA enacted changes to Drone-ID Marking Rule, which requires small unmanned aircraft owners to display the unique identifier assigned by the FAA on an external surface of the aircraft.
To do this, use a label maker or durable tape to ensure the registration number can be presented in the field if any authorized figure were to request your identification. The most likely scenario for being apprehended would be flying your drone in restricted airspace, or over private property. Knowing the rules will help you greatly in avoiding citations and fines.
We also recommend printing the certificate confirming your registration as further documentation you can present in the field. Here’s a full list of what you should have on you if you’re stopped by officials for a ramp check.
Going Beyond Registration with the Part 107 Certification
Registering your drone is a requirement by law, but it does not mean that you gain any special privileges by doing so. Flying as a hobbyist presents many restrictions that will only be unlocked by becoming an FAA-certified drone pilot.
If you bought a drone to use it for any kind of monetary exchange that would put you in the commercial category and would leave you susceptible to fines if caught flying without the proper certification. Not only that, some of the best images you can take from a drone are going to be in areas that require airspace authorization or a waiver, which are only available to FAA-certified drone pilots.
Welcome To The Drone Community
Now that you are a registered drone operator you have just become a member of one of the fastest growing enthusiast communities on earth! Consider yourself a pioneer and leader in an industry that will continue to grow and change over the next decade.
This year alone we have seen several changes to drone legislation and the rules in place for hobbyists and professionals alike. As a resource to your education we want to encourage you to operate in the same fashion you would expect from your peers.
The laws are literally being written by the behaviors we see being exhibited today. Since this post was written to get you started on the right foot, we wanted to share several infamous drone incidents that have acted as red flags to the entire industry.
#1 Drone Shuts Down An Entire Aiport In The UK
One of the biggest repercussions to a drone flying too close to an airport would be exactly what happened at Gatwick International in the UK. Over the course of 10 hours, police and military were required to survey a rogue drone that caused dozens of flight delays and hundreds of thousands of dollars in re-routing costs.
#2 The Largest Fine Ever Issued by the FAA
With how many drones there are zipping through our airspace it’s virtually impossible for the legal system to prosecute every malfeasance, right?
Even though the odds are in your favor, too many radical flights can lead to serious repercussions.
#3 The First Jail Sentence Issued for a Drone Pilot Who Knocks Woman Unconscious
Fines are bad enough, but can you imagine being told you have to serve a jail sentence after seriously injuring an innocent bystander?
The most important rule for flying a drone is making sure you don’t cause harm to people in the area.