Unfortunately, it isn't quite that easy.
If you live in the United States, the FAA requires all drones 0.55 lbs (250 grams) and less than 55 lbs (25 kg) to be registered. If you choose not to register, you may be liable for civil penalties up to $27,500 or criminal penalties up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years. Scary stuff, but there's nothing to fear as we've registered our fair share of drones and are here to walk you through the process. We're only going to cover the United States in this article but stay tuned for registration processes in other countries!
When do I need to register my drone?
You'll basically need to register your drone as soon as you receive it. Federal aviation law classifies drones as aerial vehicles and as with any vehicle, it will have to be registered before it is driven/flown.
What if my drone is above 55 lbs?
If your drone weighs below 0.55 lbs then you don't need any registration at all! However if your drone weighs above 55 lbs, you'll need to go through the N-number registration process found here.
Different types of registration
If you only plan on flying for recreational purposes, you're in luck! This is also called The Exception for Recreational Flyers registration.The FAA has an exception for recreational flyers and you can use your registration number for all of the drones you use. Which means you'll only ever need to register once! Recreational licenses are valid for 3 years and there are certain restrictions you have to follow when flying.
There are certain restrictions if you fall under the recreational license category. These restrictions include:
- Flying your drone at or below 400 feet (121 meters) when in uncontrolled (Class G) airspace
- Obtaining authorization before flying in controlled airspaces.
- Keeping your drone in direct line of sight while flying, either by yourself or by an observer that can alert you of any danger.
- Not interfering with manned aircraft.
- Never flying over people or moving vehicles.
- Never interfering with emergency response activities such as disaster relief, any type of accident response, law enforcement activities, firefighting, or hurricane recovery efforts
- Never flying under the influence. No drinking and flying!
- Never operating your drone in a careless or reckless manner.
- Not flying for commercial purposes.
Not sure what controlled or uncontrolled airspaces are? Fret not, the FAA has created a mobile app called B4UFLY, that will tell you whether or not you are in controlled or uncontrolled airspace. It's available for iOS and Android as well as accessible on the web. We recommend checking the app before you fly somewhere new. We'll have a separate article detailing how to apply for authorization to fly in controlled airspaces.
Commercial and Public
This is also called the Part 107 registration. You'll need this license if you intend to use your drone for commercial purposes such as shooting promotional footage and you'll have to register on a per-drone basis. By applying for a commercial/public license you are effectively becoming a FAA-Certified Remote Pilot. As a Certified Remote Pilot, there are some extra hoops you'll have to jump through to get certified, including a knowledge test. To take the the pilot test, you must:
- Be at least 16 years old
- Be able to read, speak, write, and understand English
- Be in a physical and mental condition to safely fly a drone
- Pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam
This is basically the same process as getting your driver's license and from our experiences, just as easy! If you're still worried, we'll have a separate article all about how to ace your pilot exam!
While becoming a Certified Remote Pilot certainly comes with more freedom than a recreational flyer, there still are a variety of restrictions you must abide by. These restrictions include:
- Drone needs to remain in visual line of sight of the pilot or visual observer.
- Drone needs to be able to be seen by the naked eye or with glasses/contacts. Which means you can't fly your drone so far that you need binoculars to see it!
- Drone cannot be flown over anyone who is not directly involved with the operation. Which means you can't fly it over bystanders but you can fly it over people who you have permission from.
- Drone cannot be flown under a covered structure or inside a covered stationary vehicle.
- Daylight-only operations, or civil twilight (30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time) with appropriate anti-collision lighting.
- Must yield right of way to other aircraft.
- First-person view camera cannot satisfy “see-and-avoid” requirement but can be used as long as requirement is satisfied in other ways.
- Maximum groundspeed of 100 mph (87 knots).
- Maximum flight altitude of 400 feet above ground level; if higher than 400 feet, remain within 400 feet of a structure.
- Minimum weather visibility of 3 miles from control station.
- Operations in Class B, C, D and E airspace are allowed with the required permission. Remember, check the app to see if you need to apply for permission!
- Cannot operate more than one drone at a time.
- No operations from a moving aircraft.
- No operation from a moving vehicle unless over a sparsely populated area.
- Cannot have drone carry hazardous materials.
- Preflight inspection must be carried out.
- External load operations are allowed if the object being carried by the unmanned aircraft is securely attached and does not adversely affect the flight characteristics or controllability of the aircraft.
Seems like a lot more restrictions than a recreational pilot! Of course, recreational pilots have these restrictions as well, however usually these restrictions will never come up if you're simply flying a drone for fun. The most important part of being a Certified Remote Pilot is that most of these restrictions can be waived if you demonstrate you can operate safely without the restriction!
Information Needed to Register
First of all you'll have to be 13 years old or older to register. If not, the drone needs to be registered to someone who fits the requirement. If you're registering for a commercial license, you'll have to be at least 16 years old. You'll also need an email address (if you don't have one I think you're reading the wrong guide), a physical address and mailing address (if your mailing address is different than your physical address), and a credit or debit card. If you're applying for a commercial license under part 107, you'll also need to provide the make and model of your drone.
How to Register?
Recreational License Registration
The easiest way to register is online, and the link can be found here. After creating an account, just walk through the steps and you'll be fully registered! Starting June of 2021, you'll also be required to pass an online aeronautical knowledge and safety test. Once you pass the test, you'll have to carry proof of test passage when you fly.
Commercial and Public License Registration
To register for a commercial and public drone license, you'll go through the same portal as the recreational license, but you'll select the Part 107 process instead. However, before you register your drone, you'll have to obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate. We won't go over the details in this article but stay tuned, we'll have another article covering the whole process.
All recreational, commercial and public drone licenses require a $5 fee for each registration. If you'd like to transfer your license from recreational to commercial or vice versa, it will also require an additional $5 transfer fee. Renewing your license will also cost $5. We'll update this with the latest information as the laws regarding drone registration are constantly changing.
After submitting your registration to the FDA you'll receive your physical FAA registration certificate by mail as well as a digital version emailed to you. This will act as your "flying license", and you should always have either the digital or physical copy of this on hand when you fly. Afterwards, you'll also need to label your drone with this registration number, sort of like how cars need a license plate. Here's a helpful guide created by the FAA on how to properly label your drone.
Every three years you'll have to renew your licenses. If you filed for a commercial license, you'll also have to renew your Remote Pilot Certificate every two years by taking a knowledge test. You can renew your registration by logging onto the FAA DroneZone portal and selecting "renew".
As much as we'd love to just grab our new drones and take them out for a spin as soon as we get them, they are still considered vehicles and we'll have to register them first. Luckily, the process is quick and easy and is only becoming more streamlined over time. Once you receive your license, the B4UFLY app can help you determine whether or not you'll be flying in restricted airspace. We hope this guide has helped clarify the process of registering your drone.