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Everything you need to know about the FAA’s new drone registration program

Published Dec 22nd, 2015 1:47PM EST
FAA Drone Registration

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Yesterday afternoon, the FAA’s website for drone registration went live. While the process is seemingly straight forward, there are a number of caveats and exceptions to the whole process that you might want to be aware of. Not to worry, we’ve compiled a list of every last bit of relevant information about the ins and outs of drone registration.

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Who has to register? 

If you’re a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident and own a drone that weighs between .55 pounds (250 grams) and 55 pounds, you’ll have to head on over to the FAA’s new webpage and take care of business. If you happen to have a drone that weighs more than 55 pounds, don’t think you’re getting off scot-free. Rather, you’ll have to use an alternative registration process that you can check out via the FAA’s Aircraft Registry page.

Age wise, drone owners younger than 13 will need to have a guardian or representative register the drone in their place.

What’s so special about the .55 pound threshold?

Hardly an arbitrary figure, the FAA determined that most toy drones available for purchase in the $100 or less range tend to weigh less than 250 grams. In other words, the threshold is a presumably straightforward way not to make the new guidelines particularly burdensome.

How much does it cost to register?

Thankfully, registering your drone online is pretty cheap. Put simply, if you can afford a drone, you can afford to register. The registration fee is $5, but you can get that amount refunded in full if you register before midnight EST on January 20, 2016.

What info do I need to hand over?

You’ll need to provide a valid email address, a credit or debit card for payment, and a physical or mailing address.

What if I have multiple drones, do I need to register all of them?

Thankfully, no. If you have a room filled with drones, you’ll only need to register once.

What if I use a drone for commercial purposes?

If you’re not a hobbyist or recreational user and use an eligible drone for business purposes, say, for taking aerial shots at weddings, you’ll have to register via the FAA’s paper-based registration process.

Do I need to do anything after completing the online registration process?

Yes indeed. Once you register, you’ll receive a unique registration number that you’ll have to affix to all of your devices in some fashion or another. The FAA rules dictate that the registration number must be visible and can be attached via engraving, a permanent label, or a permanent marker. If you’re not excited about the idea of attaching a registration number to your beloved drone, the FAA does note that you can put the number inside the device’s battery compartment provided that special tools aren’t needed to open it up.

Is that it?

Sadly, no. All registered owners will be issued an FAA certificate (via email) that they must have on their person anytime their drone is in-flight. The certificate will house a person’s name, registration number, and also the associated dates of issue and expiration. Not to worry, if you don’t want to walk around with your drone registration papers at all times, having a copy of your FAA certificate on your phone is sufficient to meet the agency’s requirement.

What if I let a friend borrow my drone for the weekend?

You’ll have to either give them a copy of your FAA certificate or email it to them. The FAA notes: ” Anyone who operates your drone must have the Certificate of Aircraft Registration in their possession.”

How long does the registration stay valid?

Once you’re registered, you’re good to go for a period of three years.

Do I have to pay $5 every three years?


Do I still have to register even if I just fly my drone in my backyard for fun?

Yes, so long as your drone weighs 250 grams or more.

When does this registration hoopla begin?

It already has. It went into effect on Monday, December 21.

Can I just register in a few weeks? This process sounds annoying.

We feel ya. Still, the FAA isn’t playing around. As of this week, you’re not allowed to take your drone for a spin unless you’ve already registered.

Why the heck is the FAA making my life so inconvenient?

Safety is the name of the game here and the new registration process is a way to “build a culture of accountability and responsibility.” Additionally, if there’s a safety or security incident involving an improperly behaving drone, authorities will want to be able to trace it back to its true owner. The FAA adds: “Much like registering a motor vehicle, registering a drone ties a specific person to a specific aircraft. Greater accountability will help protect innovation, which is in danger of being undermined by reckless behavior.”

What happens if I don’t register?

The FAA is dead serious about drone registration. As such, the penalties for not registering are more severe than you might imagine. A civil fine might cost you as much as $27,500. If you’re unregistered drone gets involved in some criminal related mishap, the fine can be as high as $250,00.

Will the FAA be on the hunt for unregistered drones?

No. Doing so would be a logistical nightmare and practical impossibility. But again, if you’re unregistered drone ends up in some sort of safety or security incident, you’ll be in bad shape. Moral of the story? Play it safe and register your drone ASAP.

I decided to sell my drone, now what?

Congrats on the sale! You’ll now have to head back to the FAA’s website and update your registration information. The FAA also advises that you remove the printed registration number from your drone before giving it away or selling it.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.

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