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US Drone Owners Must Register With FAA By Feb 19, 2016

In: ,
Published: 15/12/2015
By: larry

DroneNewsYesterday the FAA announced a web-based registration process for owners of small unmanned aircraft (UAS) weighing more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) and less than 55 pounds (approx. 25 kilograms including payloads such as onboard cameras. Registration begins on December 21, 2015 and the first 30 days are free.

Under this rule, any owner of a small UAS who has previously operated an unmanned aircraft exclusively as a model aircraft prior to December 21, 2015, must register no later than February 19, 2016. Owners of any other UAS purchased for use as a model aircraft after December 21, 2015 must register before the first flight outdoors. Owners may use either the paper-based process or the new streamlined, web-based system. Owners using the new streamlined web-based system must be at least 13 years old to register.

The full rule 211 page rule can be viewed here:

16 comments on “US Drone Owners Must Register With FAA By Feb 19, 2016”

  1. Just to clarify, aside from registering the drone, people still need a pilots license to actually fly one, right?

    Or are people flying them without pilots licenses???

  2. This is not a new rule or law. The FAA has been required to register all aircraft for decades, they have just ignored model aircraft until now. Drones are model aircraft, the FAA makes no distinction.

    You have never needed an airman's certificate to fly as small drone for hobby purposes, and you still don't.

    If you are flying under a Section 333 exemption then you already have an airman's certificate and your drone is already registered and has an "N" number attached. This announcement from the FAA does not apply to you.

  3. The new website only handles hobby and recreational users, not anything even remotely connected to commerce, however... it's intention is that ALL drones must be register regardless of usage (except very small toys weighing under 1/2 a pound)

    They've defined it specifically:

    The company (or individual running the company) that holds the 333 exemption does not need to be a licensed pilot, but the person actually flying the drone/UAV must be.


    Hobby or Recreation
    Flying a model aircraft at the local model aircraft club.
    Taking photographs with a model aircraft for personal use.
    Using a model aircraft to move a box from point to point without any kind of compensation.
    Viewing a field to determine whether crops need water when they are grown for personal enjoyment.

    Not Hobby or Recreation
    Determining whether crops need to be watered that are grown as part of commercial farming operation.
    Delivering packages to people for a fee
    A realtor using a model aircraft to photograph a property that he is trying to sell and using the photos in the property’s real estate listing.
    A person photographing a property or event and selling the photos to someone else.
    Receiving money for demonstrating aerobatics with a model aircraft.

    So essentially, if I understand correctly, to fly for real estate listings:
    1- Drone must be registered for business use (paper registration, not available via web)
    2- Pilot in Control must be licensed at least as a Sports or Recreational Pilot
    3- Section 333 must be obtained to fly without having to file a COA for every flight

  4. The regulation is poorly thought out. Especially when it comes to real estate photography. I find it strange that a hobby or recreational drone can be registered online, with no training whatsoever required of the pilot or any licensing, and can fly to a 400 foot altitude and it can way from a half a pound to 55 pounds, but…

    The exact same drone (make and model, weight) flown to video a house ( so the exact same scenario as the hobbyist might fly it), requires a pilots license, 333 exemption, and formal registration that can take up to 90 days just to process, (and sounds like it will be longer now). And that's not all, even under these more stringent requirements, the commercial drone has a limit of a 200 ft altitude, unless you don't do the 333 exemption, and instead choose to file a COA every time you fly it, which is completely impractical based on how soon the real estate
    market needs to market a property.

    It's really pretty absurd. Looking at what it takes to get a sports or recreational license, the skills are not even close to the same thing as flying a small drone. They are pretty much unrelated. You could get an air balloon license which cost about $5000, and that would somehow qualify you for a recreational pilot license, which would allow you to legally fly your drone commercially,but the two things have pretty much nothing in common.

  5. The regulation is following the law set by Congress. For decades all aircraft were required to be registered, but the FAA has ignored model aircraft. Until now.
    Also by law and by international treaty (International Civil Aviation Organization - ICAO) any flight in commerce must be done by certificated pilots. The FAA is just following the law - they are not making it up.

    Note - in the US, there is no pilot's license. The FAA issues 'airman certificates'.

    The recreational or balloon certificates are airman certificates that satisfy the treaty requirements. It has nothing to do with being able to fly a Cessna, but that the operator possesses some aviation and airspace knowledge.

    Aircraft registration has nothing to do with the FAA database of more than 900 drone sightings. (And that's all they are - someone thought they saw a drone. The data does not support the sensational news headlines of 900 near disasters). Registration offers the FAA an opportunity to deliver some aviation and airspace knowledge to the user. Most of the buyers of personal drones have no clue that a "Class B" airspace exists, let alone how to know where it is.

    Sometime in 2016 we can expect the Part 107 rules for commercial drone operations to be finalized, making the Section 333 exemption mostly obsolete. The list of terms and conditions in the exemptions will be codified in the rules. the new rules will likely be much more liberal than the current COA process. But an airman's certificate will still be required for commercial flight. Part 107 rules will create a new class of airman's certification requiring only a written test. No flight experience will be required.

    Registration is not poorly thought out - it is poorly perceived by those who cannot see the bigger picture. When the other shoe drops, things will be more clear.

  6. Really exciting that we have a pathway to being able to legally accomplish our drone aerial photography. For our company, we don't want to become experts at things that other are investing a huge amount of time and money to learn a skill. We will hire them. Already we have established a relationship with several "legal" drone fliers in several states that take 10 images or 60 seconds of video or some combo for $150 for finished images. We then mark it up $50 and sell to our client. The drone filier and his/her company is transparent to our client and we book/bill everything. Its a win-win for the flier and for our company. Its our model and it works for us. That being said - I wish everyone who wants to do this themselves the best of luck with such a fun method of taking images. Think about teaming up with other real estate photographers in your area and offering your services. Its a great way to book a new set of regular clients - that of the real estate photographer. We sign a non-disclosure that we won't go after the fliers clients and they won't go after ours. It really works out well for us.

  7. P.S. I forgot to mention - we also job out video now. Again we pay $150 for a minute or less of video that is edited to our specs and we mark it up. This is for our "regular clients" - for our high end clients we charge a lot more and of course we pay a lot more. Wtih the $150 we use the clips mixed in with the stills in a tour or on a single property website. Again, we are finding that by having other really great photographers located across 4 states we are able to bring in a nice income without having to live camera to mouth every day wondering when our next booking will come in (although thankfully they come in very regularly!).

  8. Suzanne's approach is the most appropriate. I recently spoke at a seminar where I was telling a bunch of photographers (a mix of wedding, event and real-estate) what was involved in flying a commercial drone legally. At the end, you could feel the relief in the crowd when I said: "Or you can contract it out".

    If you do not have a pilot's license or drone, then you should plan on spending upwards of $10,000. I doubted if anyone in the audience had enough business volume to make outsourcing a difficult decision.

    As a side-note. If the drone operator you are hiring is not properly licensed or insured, then you could be liable for any damages they might cause with a crash.
    Side-side note: If the operator says they are insured through membership in the AMA, note that the AMA insurance does not cover commercial operations.

  9. With respect to RE drone video, Class G airspace is more likely. I've never found it necessary to fly above 150ft for residential properties, or even rural properties. For me, we're talking an altitude of 150ft with a radius of 300ft to show a home. My drone won't even takeoff in Class B airspace (it's programmed not to), nor can it reach class b even outside the 5 mile airport radius. (Programmed for a 400ft max altitude). In fact, I try as much as possible not to fly outside the property boundaries, just to be polite to the neighbors, and to concentrate on the property I'm working on.

    I could see a distinction made for commercial properties (buildings in more populated areas, downtown, shopping, or over busy highways, etc), but with regular single-family residential and rural properties, we're not flying in airspace occupied by commercial aircraft anyway, with the possible exception of police or rescue helicopters. Trees grow taller then I fly 🙂

  10. Kevin, while you don't say it in your post, you hint at something that many people believe. Class G airspace is the least regulated in the US, but the FAA still regulates flight there. There is no unregulated airspace in the US.

  11. You are conflating the issue between commercial operations and the recent requirement for hobbyists to register their drones. Registering your drone does not enable you to operate a drone commercially.

    @Kevin, welcome to the world of drones and the FAA. The whole 333 exemption process has been a controversial one for the reasons you mentioned and has never really been about safety. Nevertheless its the process in place and the NPRM that was issued in February is really quite reasonable and will enable real estate photographers to be in the aerial photography business fairly inexpensively and easily.

    @Steven Mann, part of the confusion is that congress has never mandated the FAA to regulate RC models. In fact it was specifically carved out of the Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and the FAA has never had the authorization to regulate them. In July the FAA issued an interpretation of the 2012 Modernization Act to define RC models as aircraft. The DOT granted the FAA jurisdiction but the congress didn't so this is being contested in court.

    This is not simply an issue of regulation being poorly perceived, in part its an issue of the authority of the FAA to regulate RC Models, they don't have the authority to simply create an ARC committee and unilaterally decide what the rules are. If they want to regulate RC then they need to go through the same NPRM process that they went through to regulate commercial use of drones. Also this requirement to regulate hobbyists drones is not an aircraft registration, the drone operator is what's being registered and they use the same registration number on all the drones they own which is very different than registering for an N-number for a specific aircraft.

    Also a big part of the controversy is because the FAA makes the registration information public. Its one thing when I voluntarily put personal information on my drone versus a federal registration. Everyone makes the argument that there is no more privacy but its not just about the privacy its about how the data is used. If my information is stollen in Target then I can take Target to court and hopefully recover any damages that might have occurred as a result of the theft. If information provided by a federal database is used for nefarious purposes the government goes Oops, and there's not much you can do about it.

    If my contact information is on my drone and it crashes causing injury or damage, it gets confiscated, entered into a chain of evidence and I have the opportunity to defend myself in court. If a drone is used for nefarious purposes and it is tracked to me through the federal database, even if it was not my drone I might have to spend a considerable amount of time and money defending myself. When people first registered their drones they were emailed certificates for other peoples drones with other peoples private information included in the email. The FAA went Oops and are not accountable for the mistake.

    Finally, the need for registration was in part born out of the need for safety and privacy, that's fine but what about the privacy needs of the drone operator? There is no federal registration of cars, they are registered at the state level and the general public doesn't have access to information of who own's the car. Why is this different? Why should my 13 year old niece be subjected to the potential of some public safety zealot camping out on her front lawn or ridiculing her in public. Where is her right to safety?

  12. Moderator - please tell me if this is too far off-topic and I'll stop here.

    Chuck: I do agree that the Section 333 of the FMRA is not affected by sUAS registration. Also that when the Part 107 rules in the federal meat grinder (FAA docket number FAA-2015-0150) are finalized, hopefully mostly as proposed, then getting the appropriate certification for flying your drone for any commercial purpose including photography will be simplified, cheaper and easier (relatively). The Section 333 (of the FMRA) exemptions is temporary for those who can't or won't wait for the Part 107 rules.

    I sort of agree with you that the Part 48 sUAS registration should have gone through the full NPRM process as it is a new rule that may be contrary to the congressional prohibition of promulgating rules regulating model aircraft. But the end result would have likely been the same. There was a 30-day comment period before the interim rule was implemented and no one - not even the Academy of Model Aeronautics filed an adverse comment which would have stopped the interim rule. (An adverse comment is one that demonstrates how a proposed rule would negatively affect aviation safety).

    I am not aware of any cases working their way through the court systems where the FAA jurisdiction is being tested. (The Skypan case is still in the negotiation stages, so it's not technically 'in the courts' yet.) The AMA did file suit in federal court when the FAA interpreted Section 336 of the FMRA as if it were the rule. In that case the FAA enforcement of section 336 definitions of model Aircraft in abeyance until the FAA has reviewed all comments, then the case may continue. If the FAA violates the abeyance, the case can continue right away. That is what the AMA is asking the court to rule on. If anyone can cite another case where the FAA jurisdiction is being contested, I would sure like to research it.

    The FAA gets its jurisdiction from laws passed by congress, mostly in USC 49. The DOT does not "give" jurisdiction to the FAA. It may appear to be the case here, but the FAA administrator works for the DOT and for the DOT and the FAA to make a joint announcement is really unheard of. In my opinion, this is not something the FAA wanted to do, but were pushed into it. The FAA has always considered model aircraft as aircraft for the purposes of aviation safety. (Specifically any model aircraft operator can be charged with violating 14 CFR 91.13 'careless and reckless'). The Pirker decision by the NTSB only reaffirmed that. There's nothing new here.

    All aircraft registration is public data. In order to find my information in the database, you first need to know my registration number. On my Cessna the 12-inch N number is easy to see. My sUAS registration number is ten random letters and numbers, so start guessing. If my math is right there are 3.6 quintillion possible combinations. The database is not searchable by name or address. And that's all that is there. Your name and address. If that is privacy concern, then the telephone book must really terrify you.

    You said: "When people first registered their drones they were emailed certificates for other peoples drones with other peoples private information included in the email. ". Please provide a cite because I don't believe this at all. If you are referring to the Part 48 sUAS registrations - those aren't mailed- you download and print it. There have been cases where manned aircraft registrations were mailed to the address provided by the aircraft owner, but the owner moved and didn't tell the FAA as required by law. Not the FAA's fault.

    As I said, sUAS registration is poorly received, and poorly presented.

  13. I'm not the moderator but this is all happening real time so I hope everyone tries to stay informed.

    The reason I know this, is that it has happened to one of our partners, you can read about it here:

    This isn't an isolated case, more here:

    The FAA has not been able to keep the registration of drones straight, as I mentioned this is not about my privacy but how the federal government plans to use the information. Can you imagine the unintended consequences to this ruling?

    First they're rebating everyones registration fee who registered in the first 30 days, they've already discovered serious problems with this database, can you imagine the potential for fraudulent rebates?

    Also curious is the information that is being disseminated to local law enforcement:

    Also since when did local law enforcement deal with federal laws in this way?

    Stephen, sounds like your a lawyer, if so we could use your help...

  14. Sorry, I thought I read "mail" not "email". Yes the database was shut down for 24-hours to fix the error and the FAA offered to reissue new registration numbers to anyone who may have been affected.

    I had the same thing happen to me when I bought a book online from the Smithsonian, and my receipt contained someone else's credit card information. I could have bought a new camera but I contacted the person directly and told them of the error and advised them to cancel that card in case I wasn't the only one who saw her information. Smithsonian said it was the fault of their credit card processor.

    There is no reason to rush registration until the deadline, I did it because I wanted to document the process for my blog contributions. And I do fly a drone for hobby use. It's a DIY hexacopter with no specs and no serial number, but I am learning a lot by building it. But don't wait until the last day because that's when 100,000 AMA members will go online.

    The LLEO's cannot enforce federal law. They don't want to anyway. What the 'guidance to law enforcement' letter was supposed to be is to tell LLEOs what evidence to collect and contact the FAA for an enforcement decision. Unfortunately, most local Barneys read "collect evidence" as "confiscate".

    No, I am not a lawyer, but I do read a lot and research drone law issues. I am a member of UCUAS, but there has been no activity there for ten months. Even their Twitter feed ends in early May, 2015. If you have a Section 333 exemption, you may want to check out

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