All You Need to Know About FAA Registration

Last updated February 13th, 2020
Filling in a paper form

Consumer drones have become a staple in our skies today, and interest continues to rise with each passing day.

While a rise in the number of drone users in the world is good news for manufacturers, retailers, and enthusiasts, it does pose some problems for those tasked with keeping our skies safe.

Aviation authorities like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its counterparts around the world have it all to do to keep up with the rapidly changing landscape that is the drone space.

As the number of drones in the sky and their operators keep increasing, one of the ways authorities keep a handle on things is drone registration, and, in some areas, pilot registration.

In this article, we discuss all you need to know about FAA drone registration.

Is it always necessary?

What are the procedures?

What about foreign-based drone pilots?

We clarify all this and more with respect to the FAA in the article below.

Is It Mandatory to Register Your Drone with the FAA?

Shortly after consumer drones became popular, there were no hard and fast rules on who should get registered and who shouldn’t. And this was especially true for recreational pilots who only flew their drones as a hobby.

But by 2015, that status quo lay firmly in the past as aviation authorities, particularly the FAA sought to bring some order into the drone space.

In December of 2015, the FAA rolled out a new set of regulations that requires all UAV operators, whether recreational or commercial, to register their drones.

This law is binding on all drones that weigh more than 0.55 pounds (249g) and less than 55 pounds. Therefore, drones under 250 grams don’t require registration.

The reason for this change, according to the FAA, was to ensure the safety of drone pilots and bystanders and also to enforce accountability.

According to the U.S. Transportation Secretary at the time, Anthony Foxx, drone operators and enthusiasts can rightly be considered aviators as much as any other aircraft pilot.

And for that reason, making registration mandatory offers an opportunity to ensure that these drone aviators can operate and enjoy their devices in peace and safety.

Some people may find it strange that something they classify as a fancy toy needs to be registered with the federal administration.

But when you consider the far reaching effects of drone technology across several unrelated fields in today’s world, you may better understand the reason behind the FAA’s thinking.

With these unmanned aerial vehicles comes both opportunity and risk, and the FAA has been keen to keep everyone safe.

As an unregistered drone operator, you could be fined anything from $27,500 for civil cases, up to $250,000 for criminal cases with the possibility of a three-year jail term.

As of December 2019, there were over 1.5 million drones registered with the FAA. The majority of these are recreational drones, while commercial drones registered number just over four hundred thousand.

There are also 160,748 remote pilots certified with the FAA.

Why the FAA Wants Drones Registered

It is no secret that the overwhelming majority of drone operators go about their activities safely and responsibly.

But there are still a few operators who keep on finding ways to put their drones to illegal use.

Some of these instances include when drones have shown up too close to airport runways, and when drones have been used to deliver or drop drugs and other items into prisons.

In these cases, the only way the authorities can trace the perpetrators of these acts is by keeping a tab on all drones in circulation.

Operating a UAV is, in more than one way, similar to driving a car—you need a paper trail to identify those whose devices cause damage.

Thus, apart from drones that weigh less than 0.55 pounds or more than 55  pounds, there is no exception to the need to get a drone registered. Whether you intend flying your new drone as a hobby or using it for commercial purposes, you need to get it registered with the FAA.

Incidentally, there are many drones which weigh less than 0.55 pounds and carry cameras.

These are usually considered beginner drones, and they are given to very young children and pilots who are just beginning to learn how to fly drones.

Drones of that weight are very unlikely to cause any injury so they remain largely unregulated.

Recreational Drones vs. Commercial Drones

The FAA considers recreational drones and commercial drones as two separate classes, and there are different rules outlined for the operation of each class.

Registering and Flying Recreational Drones

The Federal Aviation Administration has clear rules and guidelines for obtaining a license for your recreational drone and operating it.

For example, if you plan on flying your recreational drone indoors, then you need not get a remote pilot’s license and you need not even register the drone with the FAA.

On the other hand, if you intend going outside to fly your drone—even on your own property—then you will need to register it, if it weighs over 0.55 pounds.

So it is all up to you; if you don’t want to go through the hassle of registering  your drone then you only need to keep your drone operations indoors. If you do hunger for open skies, however, then you need to get your drone registered.

Also, according to FAA rules, as a recreational drone pilot, you don’t need to get a remote pilot license under the following circumstances.

You Don’t Need to Register with the FAA if…

  • Your drone is flown purely as a hobby or for only recreational purposes
  • You adhere to the guidelines outlined by the community in which you are flying your drone recreationally
  • You keep your drone within your direct line of sight at all times
  • Yield to any and every manned aircraft your drone comes across
  • Stay at least five miles away from aerodromes and air traffic control towers
  • Your drone weighs less than 55 pounds

You can also fly your drone for recreational purposes if you or a supervisor watching you has a valid remote pilot license.

However, there are a few restrictions for such recreational flights which you must take note of. According to the FAA site, these are:

  • You aircraft must be registered as a non-model drone
  • You must observe the FAA’s Small UAS Rule, Part 107
  • Either you or someone supervising you has a valid remote pilot’s license

Procedure for Registering Recreational Drones

According to the FAA, pilots of recreational aircraft must:

  1. Register as a “Modeler”
  2. Label your model aircraft or drone with your registration number

In order to register your drone, you must be:

  • At least 13 years old. Drone owners who are less than 13 years old can have their drones registered by someone who is 13 years or older
  • A US. citizen or a legal permanent resident of the US

In order to register, you will require:

  • An email address
  • Credit card or debit card
  • A physical address and a mailing address (if this is different from the mailing address)

The registration process for drones that weight between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds can be done completely online.

Foreign nationals visiting the United States with their drones must register their drones upon arriving the country. Your online registration will serve as a certificate of ownership.

For more information about foreign-based pilots, you can refer to the FAA website for information concerning Foreign UAS Operators in the United States

Registering and Flying Commercial Drones

Things change when you set out to use your drone make money.

Like in many other countries, when you decide to fly your drone for commercial purposes there is a fair amount of red tape and procedures you have to go through.

So long as you intend to receive something tangible — anything, including a cup of coffee — in exchange for the use of your drone, you are firmly in commercial zone and can no longer be described as a recreational pilot.

First of all, you have to register your commercial UAV and get an airworthiness certificate for the device from the FAA.

You must also make sure to stick to all state and local laws regarding drone operations. And this includes nitty-gritties like:

  • The recording capabilities of the drone
  • Maintaining set distances from banks, schools, federal buildings, and so on
  • Getting a remote pilot certificate

Speaking of remote pilot certificates, let’s be clear about one thing: in order to operate a commercial drone in the United States, you will need a license or remote pilot certificate.

Foreign-based commercial drone pilots who are visiting the US must apply for a waiver exemption in order to carry out their commercial drone activities.

Take note that the FAA does not recognize international drone pilot certificates and skipping on the waiver could land a foreign-based pilot into some hot water.

Procedure for Registering Commercial Drones

As a commercial drone pilot, the Federal Aviation Administration requires that:

  1. Register your drone when flying under Part 107
  2. Label your drone with your registration number

Registration costs $5 for each drone, and will be valid for up to 3 years.

In order to register your commercial drone, owners require the following information:

  • An email address
  • Credit card or debit card
  • A physical address and a mailing address (if this is different from the physical address)
  • The make and model of your unmanned aerial vehicle

You can go through this registration process online or you can complete it by paper.

How to Get a Remote Pilot License from the FAA

Once you get your drone registered as the law requires, that counts as a first step. You don’t get any special privileges from the FAA for doing so.

There are many restrictions that are levied upon hobbyists and recreational pilots, and these can only be uplifted after you obtain a remote pilot license and become an FAA certified drone pilot.

For example, if you bought a drone for commercial use, getting caught operating it without proper certification will make you liable to steep fines.

Also, some of the most exciting areas to fly require authorization or a waiver that is only available to FAA-certified drone operators.

Refer to the FAA website for the complete step-by-step process for obtaining a remote pilot license.

To be eligible for certification, you must:

  • Be no less than 16 years old
  • Be able to read, speak, write, and understand the English language
  • Be in the right physical and mental  condition for flying a drone
  • Pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam

Requirements for a remote pilot license include:

  • Must be easily accessible by the drone pilot during all drone operations
  • Valid for 2 years. Certified pilots must pass a recurrent knowledge test every two years to have their license renewed

What Happens After You Register with the FAA?

Part of the FAA registration process requires that you create an account for yourself with a profile that carries your full names, your physical/mailing address information, and the registration type (i.e. commercial or recreational).

By completing the registration process, you will be agreeing to comply with the safety guidelines of the FAA which are absolutely crucial to understand for anyone hoping to fly their drone in the US.

Post-registration, the FAA will give you a unique 10-digit registration number which will serve as the identifier for your drone.

As of February 25, 2019, the FAA requires that small drone owners display their unique identifiers clearly on the body of their drones whenever it is in flight.

You can adhere to this rule by using a simple label marker or durable tape to make sure that the unique identifier is readily available should an authorized figure ask for identification.

You can also print out the certificate confirming your registration to use as solid proof of your expertise while out in the field. This could prove very useful should you ever find yourself face-to-face with officials during a check.

You can also print out quick guidelines from the FAA website to keep you on the straight and narrow while exercising your full rights as a registered drone pilot out in the field.

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