Between the media hype and the mixed messages from the FAA, there’s plenty of confusion surrounding the need to register your drone. It’s a simple question but the answer depends on a number of things. Whether or not you need to register your drone could also change in the near future as FAA regulations continue to evolve.
On the face of it, registration seems like a good way to improve pilot accountability and generally keep our skies safer. But some pilots argue that it’s unnecessary, that it’s a violation of their rights and that they should be entitled to fly without being placed on a list of known drone pilots.
There are pros and cons to both sides of the debate, but recent events have made things more complicated.
At the end of 2015, the FAA introduced a ruling that required hobbyist pilots to register their drones and pay a $5 fee to do so. Then, in May 2017, an appeals court sided with drone pilot John Taylor, ruling that the FAA’s mandatory drone registration was unlawful.
According to the judge, the registration system conflicted with federal legislation dating back to 2012 that defined the FAA’s authority to regulate “model aircraft.”
The court categorized drones as model aircraft, making the technicality enough to halt the FAA’s extensive efforts to build and enforce a national drone registration system for hobbyist pilots. The shortlived days of recreational pilot registration were over.
So enough with the history lesson. Where are we at now with regards to drone registration?
Do You Have to Register Your Drone?
The answer to that question depends on your reason for flying. If you’re flying for fun, the answer is no, not since the Taylor court ruling. In fact, if you did register before the ruling, the FAA is now offering a refund and will remove your details if that’s what you want. A voluntary database remains for pilots in favor of registering.
According to the FAA, recreational pilots can fly without registration so long as they adhere to the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (Public Law 112-95 Section 336). Under this rule, operators must:
- Fly for hobby or recreational purposes only
- Follow a community-based set of safety guidelines
- Fly the UAS within visual line-of-sight
- Give way to manned aircraft
- Provide prior notification to the airport and air traffic control tower, if one is present, when flying within 5 miles of an airport
- Fly UAS that weigh no more than 55 lbs. unless certified by a community-based organization
But there are plenty of pilots out there who make the transition from hobbyist to professional, especially given the number of business opportunities in the industry. There are also plenty who fly for fun one day and for commercial purposes the next.
If you want to fly for commercial reasons, you will have to register your drone. You’ll also have to fly under the FAA’s Small UAS Rule (Part 107), which states that you’ll have to:
- Register your UAS with the FAA as a “non-modeler”
- Obtain an FAA Remote Pilot Certificate
- Follow the operational requirements of the Part 107 Rule
The complexity here is really the result of factors beyond the FAA’s control. First up, there are large numbers of people keen to set up in an industry that’s still developing. Then there’s the way in which even average consumer camera drones from manufacturers like DJI can be put to work with ease. This has made it difficult for the FAA to enforce its rulings and very easy for recreational pilots to dip in and out of work when it suits them.
There are bound to be future changes to rules on registration. But for now they are relatively simple: Flying for fun and according to the Special Rule for Model Aircraft? Don’t worry about it. Flying for business purposes? You will need to register your drone.
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