There are over 1.7 million registered drones in the United States, including over 1.2 million hobbyist drones. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates all airspace and has specific regulations for all unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), including the need to register drones. So what happens if you don’t register your drone?
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TLDR – Failure to register a recreational or commercial drone that requires registration may result in steep penalties. The FAA can fine citizens up to $27,500 for a civil infraction. Drone operators may also face criminal penalties, including fines up to $250,000 and up to three years of imprisonment.
Do I Need to Register My Drone?
In 2015, the FAA announced new regulations for all drones weighing more than 250 grams (0.55 pounds). Under the FAA regulations, all drones that meet the weight requirements need to be registered to fly in any airspace.
The FAA has two primary classifications for drones: recreational and commercial. When registering, drone operators need to register under Part 107 (commercial drones) or the “Exception for Recreational Flyers.”
Drones that weigh less than 0.55 pounds and that are exclusively flown for recreational purposes do not need to be registered. Other recreational drones and all commercial drones need to be registered every three years.
The drone registration process is relatively simple. The FAA only requires a name, email address, and physical address for recreational drones. When registering a commercial drone, operators also need to provide the make and model of the drone.
How much does drone registration cost?
The registration fee is $5 per drone. Commercial drones are registered individually. Recreational drone operators receive a registration number that covers all drones that they own. Drone operators must be at least 13 years of age and a US citizen or legal permanent resident.
Recreational drone operators do not currently need to pass a test to operate a drone and receive registration. However, the FAA plans on introducing new laws in the future, including the need for recreational drone operators to pass an online safety test.
Should I Register My Drone?
Yes. Here’s why.
Registering a drone is a statutory requirement. Failure to register a drone that requires registration is illegal under federal law. Drone operators who fail to register their drones may face civil and criminal charges. The civil charges may include fines up to $27,500. The criminal charges may include fines up to $250,000 and three years of imprisonment.
While the FAA regulates the flying of drones, an unregistered drone operator would likely go unnoticed in most situations. Someone would need to report the unregistered drone and possibly provide evidence. This is unlikely to happen unless the drone operator commits another crime, such as flying recklessly or flying in unauthorized areas.
Despite the unlikelihood of a drone operator getting caught for unregistered drone flights, there is still a risk of punishment. The safest solution is to pay the $5 fee and register with the FAA.
Do You Need a License to Fly a Drone?
Recreational drone operators do not need a license. They simply need to register as a recreational flyer with the FAA. Commercial drone operators do not need a pilot’s license, but they do need a remote pilot certificate issued by the FAA. Drones that weigh less than 55 pounds can be flown for work or business if the operator follows the commercial drone (part 107) guidelines.
The FAA has clear guidelines for commercial drone operators. The operator must first review the rules of operating a commercial drone. The rules cover yielding the right of way, operating over people, and maintaining a visual line of sight.
The drone operator then needs to study and pass the knowledge set developed by the FAA. Applicants need to be at least 16 years of age. They also need to create a profile with the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) to obtain an FAA Tracking Number (FTN). After passing the test, drone operators receive a remote pilot certificate. They may then register an individual drone for $5.
Do Any States Require Drone Registration?
Almost every state has enacted one or more laws or regulations for drones. However, Minnesota appears to be the only state that currently requires recreational commercial drone operators to register their drones. Drone operators must register with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The state of Minnesota also requires commercial drone operators to obtain drone insurance and pay a licensing fee.
As the use of drones is still relatively new, many states are currently exploring additional regulations. After registering with the FAA, operators should review the current legislation in their state. Most of the state regulations for drones are related to the use of drones for photography. For example, in several states, there are specific drone laws to protect against the invasion of privacy.
Where Can Registered Drone Operators Fly?
The FAA permits registered drones to fly in uncontrolled airspace without requiring approval. Uncontrolled airspace includes everything up to 400 feet. Controlled airspace starts at 500 feet, providing a 100-foot buffer between recreational activities and commercial flights.
Flying in controlled airspace requires FAA authorization. The FAA provides three methods for registered drone operators to obtain authorization, including two web-based platforms and a written agreement from the FAA.
Along with controlled airspace and uncontrolled airspace, there are various restricted airspaces throughout the country. Restricted areas typically include heavily populated areas and government land. Individual states, counties, and cities may have additional restrictions for where a drone can fly.
Can the FAA Track Your Drone?
As of right now, the FAA cannot track a drone unless it is equipped with remote identification (RID) technology. However, the agency does not claim to use this technology at the moment. The FAA has announced plans to begin tracking drones that are approved for advanced operations, such as flying drones at night and flying over people. The FAA also plans on requiring drone operators to equip drones with RID technology.
The FAA estimates that about 93% of registered recreational drones are already equipped with RID software or capable of receiving a suitable software update. The RID software allows the FAA to log flight paths and track drone operations. Drones that cannot broadcast their identification will be required to connect to the Internet. The drones must also be programmed to stay within 400 feet of the ground.
The proposed regulations are part of a new unmanned aircraft traffic management (UTM) system. The FAA first announced the RID requirement in 2017. However, three years later, the UTM system is not yet in place. The bottom line is that the FAA does not currently admit to tracking drones but plans to do so in the future.
Do Toy Drones Need to Be Registered?
If the drone weighs less than 250 grams (0.55 pounds) and is not used for commercial purposes, it does not need to be registered with the FAA. Most toy drones should be lightweight enough to avoid the need for registration.
For example, several of the top-selling toy drones weigh between 0.30 and 0.50 pounds, just under the weight limit for unregistered drones. The weight of the drone includes the drone itself and the payload, such as a camera or sensors. If adding a camera increases the weight of the drone beyond 0.55 pounds, the operator needs to register with the FAA.