The growing popularity of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), more commonly known as "drones," has prompted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to implement federal drone registration regulations. While civilians don't have access to military drones, simpler versions of the flying devices, marketed to children and hobbyists, can be found in most hobby and toy shops. In addition, government agencies, businesses, and nongovernmental organizations have been finding novel ways to use drones for surveillance and other applications.
Whether you use a UAS to monitor the flight patterns of monarch butterflies or just for fun with your friends after school, you may be required to register your device with the FAA. The factors that determine whether you need to register, in addition to the steps involved, are summarized below. Also, be sure to check out the drone laws in your state before you take flight.
Drones that Require Registration with the FAA
Owners of drones must be at least 13 years old and a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident in order to register their UAS; those younger than 13 may have someone else register on their behalf. Drones weighing less than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) typically are exempt from the registration requirement, which includes most children's toys. However, keep in mind that anything added to a drone (such as a camera or sensor) counts toward the weight limit. The FAA provides examples of drones that do (and do not) require registration.
Online Federal Drone Registration Regulations: Step-by-Step
If your drone (minus the controller or anything else that remains on the ground) weighs more than 0.55 pounds but less than 55 pounds, you may register online. Those who use their drones for commercial purposes or plan to use them outside of the United States, regardless of weight, must register their drones using paper forms.
To register your drone online, follow these steps:
Offline (Paper) Drone Registration: Step-by-Step]
Drone operators will have to register using the FAA's Aircraft Registry instead of the online registry if their drone weighs more than 55 pounds, is used for non-recreational purposes, is owned by a company instead of an individual, or will be used outside of the United States. The agency plans to expand online registration in the future.
To register a drone that is currently ineligible for online registration, follow these steps:
1. Complete Form AC 8050-1 (Aircraft Registration Application)
2. Description of the Drone
3. Evidence of Ownership
4. Confirmation That the Drone Is Not Registered in Another Country
5. N-Number to Be Assigned to the Aircraft
6. Pay $5 Registration Fee
Get Legal Help with Federal Drone Registration Regulations
If you're flying a drone in the backyard for fun, chances are you don't need an attorney to help with the registration process. But registrations by businesses and other non-recreational users can be much more complicated, including the need for notarized documents. If you have any legal concerns about the use or registration of your drone, contact an attorney licensed in your state.