If you haven’t heard yet, it’s true. Effective December 21st, 2015, all Unmanned Aircraft Systems (Drones) are required to be registered with the FAA (again). That means you will have to register your drone if you want to fly it outside, anytime, anywhere; even for non-commercial use. The silver lining is it still costs $5, and you can do it online here.
To qualify you will, however, need to meet some requirements. The registered owner/operator must be:
- 13 years of age or older. (If the owner is less than 13 years of age, a person 13 years of age or older must register the small unmanned aircraft.)
- The registrant must be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident.
- Visiting foreign nationals must register their UAS upon arrival in the United States (online registration serves as a certificate of ownership).
While operating your drone, you must also be following the “Operator Safety Guidelines”.
- Always fly below 400 feet altitude.
- Always keep your unmanned aircraft in sight at all times.
- Never fly near manned aircraft, especially near airports.
- Never fly within 5 miles of an airport.
- Never fly over groups of people, stadiums or sporting events.
- Never fly near emergency response efforts.
- Never fly under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Always be aware of FAA airspace Temporary Flight Restrictions.
While the rules are straightforward, the story behind them isn’t. Drone registration in the US has been a bit of a rollercoaster to say the least.
Not since Ross and Rachel on Friends has there been a more epic will-they-or-won’t-they story than the US has with drone registration. Up until 2015, casual pilots could send their drones skyward with little regulation from the FAA. Late in that year, however, a new program required pilots to pay a $5 registration fee and follow a series of specific rules, like keeping the craft within the pilot’s direct line of sight. More than 800,000 pilots registered their drones and became a part of a national database.
Then, earlier this year, a District of Columbia court of appeals overturned the rule, citing the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform act, which helped take into account the new crop of hobbyist operators sending UAVs skyward. Professionals using the crafts for commercial purposes still needed specific licensing, but the masses were unfettered by regulation to fly.
At this point, the FAA went on record against the DC courts of appeals decision. I can’t say I blame them, who would want to refund millions of dollars in registration fees. After the court decision, it seemed the issue was resolved, then just days ago, Trump signed a bill reinstating the registration.
“The FAA put registration and operational regulations in place to ensure that drones are operated in a way that is safe and does not pose security and privacy threats,” the agency said in response to the appeals court ruling. And with good reason — the more drones that take to the skies, the more likely there are to be collisions with passenger planes.
And now enshrined in law, it would appear the FAA has the final word on the issue.
“We welcome the reinstatement of registration rules for all small unmanned aircraft,” the FAA said in a statement to TechCrunch. “Ownership identification helps promote safe and responsible drone operation and is a key component to full integration.”
Now that Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act, it’s important you register your drone as soon as possible. If you don’t, there are penalties.
Failure to register an unmanned aircraft that is required to be registered may result in regulatory and criminal penalties. The FAA may assess civil penalties up to $27,500. Criminal penalties include fines of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.
There is no one-size-fits-all enforcement action for violations. All aspects of a violation will be considered, along with mitigating and aggravating circumstances surrounding the violation. In general, the FAA will attempt to educate operators who fail to comply with registration requirements. However, fines will remain an option when egregious circumstances are present.
If you are planning on flying your drone, take the time, and invest the $5 to register your drone today. It’s far cheaper to register than pay up to $27,500 in civil penalties or $250,000 in criminal penalties. You can register online, here, it’s fast, and inexpensive.
Please note, this registration will cover you for non-commercial use. If you’d like to operate your drone commercially, you will still need to pass your FAA Part 107 exam. For drone operators interested in pursuing commercial registration, we offer drone school training courses covering a variety of subjects; learn from the best, learn from Drone Universities.