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Drone registration is now legally required – here’s what you need to know



It’s finally happened – the US has mandated drone registration for all of its citizens.

The Federal Aviation Administration today announced that all drone operators – civilian or otherwise – must now be registered.

Anyone can own a drone of course, but if you want to actually fly it, you’ll need to sign on with the FAA.

The new rule applies to any and all drones that weigh between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds. That figure includes cargo, like a GoPro camera.

“Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiast are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility,” explains Anthony Foxx, US Transportation Secretary.

“Registration gives us an opportunity to work with these users to operate their unmanned aircraft safely,” he continues. “I’m excited to welcome these new aviators into the culture of safety and responsibility that defines American innovation.”

A license with the FAA will cost each operator $5, and must be renewed every three years. However, the FAA is waiving the fee for anyone who registers before January 20, 2016, to encourage sign-ups.

Do note: Drone operators only need to register once, and apply that number to each of their drones, as clarified by Mashable.

The new scheme and website go live on December 21, but current drone owners have until February 19, 2016, to register.

After this date, anyone caught operating drones without registration could face criminal and civil penalties.

An FAQ reveals that criminal penalties could include fines of up to $250,000, and jail time for up to three years.

Related: DJI Phantom 3 Professional drone review

“We expect hundreds of thousands of model unmanned aircraft will be purchased this holiday season,” says FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

He adds: “Registration gives us the opportunity to educate these new airspace users before they fly so they know the airspace rules and understand they are accountable to the public for flying responsibly.”

Do you think the FAA is right to demand drone registration? Let us know in the comments.


December 15, 2015, 12:16 am

C'mon TR. Go metric! So that's 250 grams then... Not a lot eh? Not even a bag of sugar.

What kind of damage does FAA Administrator Michael Huerta think people (kids mostly) will do that requiring them to license their toys drones will prevent?

I guess they're concerned people will pack their UAVs with plastic explosives or equip them with flame-throwers or automatic assault rifles or something... Oh hang on, aren't they supposed to have restrictions on these kind of dangerous items already?

It won't be long before the UK follows suit I suppose. Gotta stop people having fun I guess. Keep them indoors where they're safe and not up to anything that might cause harm.

Bjorn O. Sigurdsson

December 15, 2015, 2:12 am

An object falling from a height of 30 meters has reached a speed of 100 km/h. Even very light objects can cause serious injury at that speed, so I can see where they're coming from. However, enforcing this is probably going to be about as effective as enforcing copyright laws.

Tom Carter

December 15, 2015, 10:15 am

Itll also make the owners of these drones easier to track since I guess a lot of the cheaper/lighter drones are just ditched by the owners if they end up doing something that would get the operator into trouble with no easy way for the authorities to trace back to them without a registration code


December 21, 2015, 1:40 pm

I'm guessing since it is US legislation, that's how it's worded. Anyway, yes, 0.55 lbs is c250g; and 55 lbs is c25kg. So unless you are flying a nano drone, you're going to need to register. Good old US - you can pretty much get a firearm at your local supermarket with zero training and zero/cursory background checks in many states, but if you want to fly a toy quadcopter you gots to get yo'self licensed!


December 22, 2015, 7:26 am

Not sure where you learnt maths, but an object falling in a vacuum from 30m would only reach 24m/s ~= 87km/h. With air resistance that figure obviously falls to a greater or lesser degree depending on the mass of the object, its coefficient of drag and its frontal area, but for a drone (relatively lightweight and with a relatively large surface) I'd expect the effect to be significant.

Anyway, surely the answer to this isn't registration of owners but regulation of drone specifications - in very few cases will someone intentionally ditch their drone at speed with the intention of hurting or damaging someone or something. Many drones already have failsafe modes where they will return to their launch point (or other designated location) and land safely if they lose reception, are low on battery, etc. Adding a federally mandated safety feature where the drone automatically enters a failsafe mode to avert crashes would be relatively simple.

In any event, I think the legislation is actually aimed not at linking people to abandoned drones that have caused damage, but more at allowing owners to be traced in cases where a drone has been (say) shot down for violating airspace over an airport, military base, prison or sports stadium, whether in a surveillance or payload dropping capacity (contraband into prisons, terrorist attacks, etc.).

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