Legal How-To: Register a Drone With the FAA

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on February 02, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

As soon as the skies became littered with unmanned aircraft systems, or, as most users call them, drones, legal regulations were sure to follow. While most drone users are just hobbyists who think they're cool, there are legitimate security and privacy concerns that accompany drone use.

To address these concerns, the Federal Aviation Administration has begun requiring registration of drones (and has already been sued for it). So how do you know whether you need to register your drone, and how do you do it?

Required Registration

Drones that weigh between 0.55 and 55 lbs. must be registered. Small unmanned aircraft systems weighing less than a half-pound don't need to be registered, and those over 55 lbs. must be registered through the FAA's aircraft registry process.

The deadline for registration is fast approaching. If you flew your drone before the registration requirement was enacted (December 21, 2015), you have until February 19, 2016 to register it. If you haven't used the drone yet, you must register it before you begin flying it.

Registration Requirements

While most drone owners can use the FAA's online registration system, owners must register by paper if:

  • They intend to use the aircraft for commercial purposes;
  • They intend to use the aircraft for any purpose other than hobby and recreation; or
  • They intend to operate the aircraft outside of the United States.

In order to register a drone, the owner must be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident over the age of 13. If the owner is younger than 13, someone older will need to register the drone. Registration only costs $5, but operating an unregistered drone could cost you: $27,500 in civil penalties along with $250,000 in criminal fines and up to three years in prison. So make sure you have your FAA registration certificate handy while you're out flying.

If you have more questions regarding drone registration, you can contact an experienced aviation attorney near you.

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