The popularity of drones has skyrocketed in recent years. And every day, the number of new fliers is ever increasing. It’s likely you just brought a drone and are itching to drop in the battery and take it out for your first flight. Sadly, the days of flying a drone moments after unboxing are quickly coming to an end. So, before you do, you’ll need to understand the rules and regulations in the U.S. With that, today’s post offers a comprehensive guide to legally flying a drone. We will cover registering your drone and how to have a safe and successful flight.
Jump to a Section
- How do you plan on flying? Are you flying for fun or money?
- How much does your drone weigh?
- Drone Registration
- Commercial drone pilot license
- Do I have to register my drone? Are there penalties for not registering?
- Why Is Registration necessary?
- Do I ever have to renew my registration?
- Now you’re registered. What’s Next?
- Know the rules
- What happens if I travel abroad with my drone?
- Now get out there
How do you plan on flying? Are you flying for fun or money?
Before we know what rules apply to your drone, we’ll have first to determine its use. With that, here are the different types of drone operators: recreational pilots, commercial pilots, public safety, and government. And whichever category your usage falls under will determine what rules and regulations apply during flight.
In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the authority on legislation. And they’ve separated the rules and requirements to make it easier for new fliers. For recreational pilots, the requirements are far less strict and quite straightforward. However, if you plan on making money commercially, the process is more involved. We will cover these steps in greater detail in the following sections. But, in short, in addition to standard registration, commercial fliers have to pass the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) knowledge test and register their drones as a “small unmanned aircraft.” At which point, they will receive Part 107 certification, and you can now sell your images or videos, work on films, and much more for two years. And after two years, you will have to renew your certification.
On the other hand, any drone used for public safety or government operations must be registered as a traditional aircraft, regardless of its weight. You can find more information on that process on the FAA’s site. This category, in particular, is far more involved than a recreational or commercial registration. So, consulting an attorney would be recommended if you fall into this category.
Thankfully, for most of us, who are just flying for fun and sharing casually with friends and family, you don’t need the Part 107 certification or higher. But, as of spring 2019, the FAA does mandate registration for all drones.
How much does your drone weigh?
Before we dive into how to register a drone, we also need to consider its size and take-off weight. If your drone weighs less than 250g (0.55 lbs), it doesn’t require registration. However, if your drone weighs between 250 g (0.55 lbs) and 55 lbs, registration with the FAA is required. And if your drone weighs more than 55 lbs, it will require registration as a traditional aircraft. And, as expected, registering a conventional aircraft is much more involved. You can find more information about that in particular here.
Now that we’ve addressed how you plan on using the drone and its take-off weight let’s talk about registering your drone. To register your drone, you’ll have to visit the FAA’s website. For recreational registration, go here. While for commercial registration, go here.
The FAA has made the process incredibly intuitive and easy. And within a few minutes, you’ll be able to fly legally in the U.S. Here are the steps for recreational registration:
- Go to the FAA registration site and create an account. After this, they’ll send you a verification link to the email address used.
- Next, enter your mailing address and name. Then agree to the safety guidance list.
- Enter your payment information and pay the $5.00 fee.
- Congrats. Your drone is now officially registered. You’ll see a 10-digit registration number on the following page, and an email with the registration certificate. Save this certificate or print it so you can have it readily on hand when flying.
After this, you’ll receive a registration number that covers all of your drones for three years. After three years, you will need to renew your registration. The FAA also requires placing this identification number on the exterior of the drone. For this, you can use printable stickers, a label maker, engraver, or a permanent marker. But, ideally using printable stickers or a label maker is preferred.
Commercial drone pilot license
Unlike recreational pilots, those seeking to fly drones commercially will have a few more hurdles to overcome to obtain their license and certification. In FAA’s terms, this is called a Remote Pilot Certificate. The first step in getting this certificate is to know the Part 107 rules. Once you’ve read over that, the next step is to pass the FAA’s aeronautical knowledge test. However, before registering for the test, make an IACRA profile, and get an FTN (FAA Tracking Number). From there, you can schedule an appointment at an FAA-approved Knowledge Testing Center to take their in-person test. Once you’ve passed your test, complete the FAA Form 8710-13 through the IACRA profile, and you’re now a certified pilot. Congrats. From here, go ahead and register your drone as usual.
Do I have to register my drone? Are there penalties for not registering?
Yes, you have to.
If you fly an unregistered drone, local law enforcement will penalize you. You’ll face steep fines, which reach $27,500 for civil penalties of up to $250,000 for criminal penalties and the possibility of 3 years jail time.
Why Is Registration necessary?
As the consumer drone space rose in popularity, an ever-increasing wave of new pilots took to the skies. And now, nearly 200,000 owners have registered on the FAA’s site since 2019. Unfortunately, some new pilots didn’t understand proper drone safety and the dangers against crewed aircraft. Drones were also crash-landing near government buildings, airports, and interfering with local public safety operations. And given the number of incidents, it was clear the honor system in place before 2019 wasn’t enough. Thus, the FAA implemented an accountability system for all pilots and new ways of educating enthusiasts looking to get airborne. There are safety implications for flying and set rules and regulations for pilots. And when pilots break those rules, the registration system helps track them down.
Do I ever have to renew my registration?
For recreational pilots, your drone’s registration number is valid for three years. After this, you will have to renew your registration. This process is just as easy as registering the drone and only takes five minutes. Additionally, for those who registered commercially, you must also pass a recurrent knowledge test after two years.
Now you’re registered. What’s Next?
Once you’re registered, you’ll receive a certificate with a unique registration number. Keep this on hand when you’re operating your drone. Also, make sure you’ve labeled your registration number on your drone so it’s easily visible, ideally with a label maker.
Know the rules
Before flying, here are the basic rules to know.
- If you don’t have a Part 107 certification, only fly recreationally.
- Always fly at or below 400 ft.
- Always obtain authorization before flying near or in controlled airspace. Otherwise, don’t fly within five miles of an airport, military installation, or heliport.
- Always keep your drone in your visual line of sight. If you’re wearing an FPV headset, make sure you have a spotter who can keep track of the drone visually.
- Don’t fly at night, unless your drone has lighting that gives recognizable visual feedback.
- Always avoid other aircraft.
- Never fly over people, sporting events, or moving vehicles.
- Don’t interfere with emergency response activities.
- Do not fly under the influence.
- Don’t fly recklessly or in adverse weather conditions that reduce visibility and stability of flight.
- Don’t fly near or over sensitive infrastructure or property.
- Don’t conduct surveillance in areas without first getting the individual’s permission.
All National Parks ban the use of drones unless they have a designated zone. And Washington, DC, is also completely restricted.
If you’re not familiar with what areas are restricted airspace in your neighborhood, check out the B4UFLY app by the FAA. They’ve designed this app to show where restricted areas are in each city.
What happens if I travel abroad with my drone?
If you want to fly outside of the U.S., store your drone in a carrying case in your luggage and pack the batteries in a carry-on bag. It’s also essential that you first familiarize yourself with the foreign countries’ laws. Many countries outright ban drones, making them fully illegal to fly. While others lack laws altogether or require registration before visiting, so take the time to look into this and be wary before traveling.
Now get out there
Now that you know all of the rules and regulations involved with flying, and you’re currently registered. It’s time to get out there and hit it.