One drone lawyer’s take on the FAA’s recreational drone registration FAQ

In Drone Law Blog, Recreational Drone Registration by Enrico Schaefer3 Comments

Recreational Drone Registration

Drone Registration Frequently Asked Questions:

Here is what the FAA has posted on their website to help recreational and hobby drone users understand its new drone registration requirements for hobby and recreational drone owners and operators.  Regulations it conceived of in a little more than two weeks, and will implement in about the same time frame The FAA bypassed the traditional (and legally required) rule making process, including notice and public comment, by claiming that expected “Christmas” drone sales created an ’emergency’ allowing it to bypass normal rule making requirements.

 The FAA was apparently so busy looking ‘up’ for wayward drones, it forgot to look down at its calendar, and thus failed to realize that Christmas comes on the same day each year. Here is one drone lawyer’s take on the overly rushed, jurisdictionally questionable and knee-jerked recreational drone registration process.  The drone registration FAQ belongs to the FAA.  My comments belong to the world.

Q. What is the definition of a UAS? Is it different from a drone?

A. A UAS is an unmanned aircraft system. A drone and a UAS are the same for registration purposes.

Comment:  Does it have a controller and weigh more than two sticks of butter?  Then it probably needs to be registered.

Q: Does the FAA have the authority to require registration of UAS used by modelers and hobbyists?

A: Yes. By statute all aircraft are required to register. Congress has defined “aircraft” to include UAS, regardless of whether they are operated by modelers and hobbyists.

Comment:  THE FAA says ‘yes.’  But many drone lawyers and drone community advocates say no way.  FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 precluded the FAA from regulating hobby aircraft. The FAA’s explanation that it is simply adding a new options for hobbyists to register.  But that makes no sense and is contrary to the FAA’s past treatment of hobby aircraft and the 2012 Congressional mandate. The FAA has more justifications than all three of my teenager’s put together.

Q: What is the penalty for failing to register?

A: Failure to register an aircraft may result in regulatory and criminal sanctions. The FAA may assess civil penalties up to $27,500. Criminal penalties include fines of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.

Comment: Holy overkill Batman!@

Q: Will an operator be required to have proof of registration while operating the UAS?

A: Yes. You will be required to have your FAA registration certificate in your possession when operating your unmanned aircraft.

Comment: What If I drone naked?

Q. Why do I need to register?

A. Federal law requires aircraft registration. Registration helps us ensure safety – for you, others on the ground, and manned aircraft. UAS pose new security and privacy challenges and must be traceable in the event of an incident. It will also help enable the return of your UAS should it be lost.

Comment: The Federal Aviation Regulations requires hundreds of things.  Why do hobbyists now have to comply with registration and nothing else? The FAA is bootstrapping the definition of ‘aircraft’ to force down a registration rule without notice or public comment before issuing a new regulation as required by law. This is one FAQ which is really hard to choke down.

Q. Where can I find information about operating my UAS safely?

A. You can find safety and operating guidance on the internet The unmanned aircraft systems website contains important safety guidance as well as other facts and information.

Comment: This is what is really going on.  Watch for this same FAQ in the web registration process next to an ‘I agree’.  We get you want people to fly safer.  But pick the right tool for the job man!The FAA is using a sledge hammer when it should be using a shoe horn. Stick a pice of paper in every drone sold for goodness sake.

What’s covered by the new registration system?

Q. Who is required to register on the new online UAS registration website?

A. Only individual recreational or hobby users who meet U.S. citizenship requirements are able to register their unmanned aircraft using this new streamlined web-based process. This new, faster and easier system will be available for other UAS owners soon.

Comment: The word “only”  before ‘individual recreational or hobby users” seems somehow misplaced.

Q. Which unmanned aircraft may register under the new registration requirements?

A. Unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds and more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) on takeoff, including everything that is on board or otherwise attached to the aircraft and operated outdoors in the national airspace system must register. These aircraft may register under the new web-based registration system.

Comment: This pulls in a LOT of toy RC aircraft and toy drones.

Q. Is there a weight limit on what requires registration?

A. All owners of small UAS weighing more than 250 grams (0.55 lbs.) and less than 55 lbs. must register using this new system.

Comment: Seems like overkill to us.   If I dropped two sticks of butter from 1,000 feet and hit someone on the head, I am still not going to do much more than mess up someone’s hair.

Q. Do children’s toys need to be registered?

A. Not if they weigh below 250 gm/0.55 lb. or less. Most “toys” the FAA has identified at a purchase price of $100 or less have been determined to weigh less than 250g. You can find more information in this Recreational UAS Weights document (PDF).

Comment: OK  You just ignored your own handcrafted question! The answer here is clearly “yes.”

Q. Do I have to register a paper airplane, or a toy balloon or Frisbee?

A. No. Even if these things could be considered “drones” or “unmanned aircraft” and met the minimum weight threshold of 250 gm/0.55 lb., the registration rules also require that they be a part of an “unmanned aircraft system.” An “unmanned aircraft system” includes the communication links and components that control the small unmanned aircraft along with all of the other elements needed to safely operate the drone. Paper airplanes, toy balloons, Frisbees, and similar items are not connected to such control system.

Comment: If it has an RC receiver and is bigger than a small frisbee, you likely need to register. Of course, you will need a scale similar to the one drug dealers use to make sure you really know if you have to register. So smoke a joint and get flying for fun!

Q. Where do I register if my unmanned aircraft weighs 55 pounds or more?

A. UAS that are 55 pounds or more must be registered using the current paper based system at:

Comment: Ugh.  The paper system sucks. What year is it?  And why does it take the FAA a month to launch a web version to register hundreds of thousands of recreational drone enthusiasts, and it can’t do the same of r N Numbers over the last 10 or so years?

Q. Is the registration process different if you’re a business versus a person?

A. The new system does not yet support registration of small UAS used in connection with a business. It will in the future. In the meantime, these entities must continue to register using the paper-based process.

Comment: So you probably have to register twice.  Virtually every commercial drone operator also flies for fun.

Q. What about tethered drones?

A. Both tethered and untethered UAS must be registered.

Comment: Even if it is tied to you, the FAA thinks it wills till be a problem figuring out who the drone belongs to?

Q. If I’m just flying it for fun in my yard, do I have to register it?

A. Yes, if the UAS weight is within the stated weights for registration.

Comment: Our drone lawyers specialize in representing 14 year old children on felony charges of ‘you didn’t register your drone before flying it 15 feet high in your own yard.”

Q. If I only fly it indoors, do I have to register it?

A. No, the FAA does not regulate indoor UAS use.

Comment: Phew!  The porn film industry is so relived that the FAA is agreeing to say out of the bedroom.

Q. Do homemade drones need to be registered?

A. Yes, if they fall within the weight criteria.

Comment: Well.  That makes sense since they are more likely to crash 🙂

Q: Will the requirement apply to UAS that I owned and operated before the registration process existed?

A: Yes. Owners who purchased their UAS prior to Dec. 21, 2015 will have 60 days to register.

Comment: So if you bought your drone 5 years ago and you don’t regularly surf the internet or watch the news, you are probably screwed.  Your next innocent drone flight could be you last trip outdoors as a free man.  The FAA seems a little narcissistic here to think the entire US population is paying attention to FAA shenanigans the week before Christmas. (“An ex post facto law (Latin for “from after the action” or “after the facts”) is a law that retroactively changes the legal consequences (or status) of actions that were committed, or relationships that existed, before the enactment of the law.”)

Q. Who must continue to register unmanned aircraft using the current paper-based Aircraft Registration System?

A. Any types of entities other than individual hobbyists (corporations, co-ownerships, partnerships, non-citizen corporations, and government), any small unmanned aircraft operating commercially or for reasons other than recreational or hobby, anyone wanting to operate outside the U.S., anyone with a UAS weighing 55 pounds or more and anyone wanting to record a lease or security interest must continue to register under the paper-based system at this time.

Comment: Commercial drone users are going to be jealous of recreational users who are going to be pissed they have to even register. I say it again.  “Really, the FAA is still forcing commercial users to use paper registration…???”

Q. Can I register a UAS under the new system using a paper form?

A. The new registration system is an online web-based system only, but you may use the older paper-based system if you prefer.

Comment:  “you are welcome to use our new lubricated pencil to stick in your anus, or use the previously available un-lubricated baseball bat.  We will let you chose because we at the FAA are in the Christmas (we mean holiday) spirit.”

Q. Is there a minimum age requirement?

A. Yes. You must be 13 years of age or older before you are permitted to register an unmanned aircraft. If the owner is less than 13 years of age, then a person who is at least 13 years of age must register the unmanned aircraft.

Comment: Does it seem strange to you that we are allowing 13 year olds to fly hobby drones when the penalty for failing to fill out a web registration form is $250,000 in fines and felony jail time?  Well. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.

Q. Is there a citizenship requirement?

A. Only United States citizens can register their small UAS. The certificate serves as a certificate of ownership for non-citizens, not a registration certificate.

Comment: Don’t worry about it.  But we will throw you in jail for unsafe flight if you cause injury or property damage.

Q. If I get a drone as a gift do I need to register?

A. Yes, unless the drone already has been registered in your name and you have the unique identification number. If the name or address registered is different from yours, you should update the registration to your name and address to aid in the return of your UAS if it is lost.

Comment:  Every holiday gift should come with the potential for jail time and bankruptcy. 

Q. What happens if I sell my drone?

A. You should log on to the registration website and update your registration information. We also strongly encourage you to remove your registration number from the drone before the transfer of ownership.

Comment:  But if you sell your gun, don’t worry.  There are no consequences if the new owner of the gun shoots someone and, even better there is no website updating required.

How to use the new registration process

Q. Where do I go to register my drone?

A. You can register your drone on beginning on December 21, 2015.

Comment:  Hopefully, you get a new computer and an upgraded internet connection for Christmas as well. 

Q. When must I register?

A. You must register prior to operating the UAS outdoors.

Comment: I will only be flying my new drone in my closet.

Q. When will I be able to register on the UAS website?

A. The FAA UAS Registration website will be available starting December 21, 2015.

Comment:  The government can’t do anything in less than three months.  Who else thinks they have been developing this website for a long time without telling us this was all fait accompli?

Q. What information will I be required to provide on the FAA UAS Registration website?

A. You must provide your complete name, physical address, mailing address, and an email address. The email address will be used as your login ID when you set up your account.

Comment:  Ignore what they are telling you below.  I am betting smart computer geeks will be able to search for random registration numbers and pull up your private information.

Q. Do I have to provide any information on my UAS?

A. Individual recreational users do not have to enter the make, model, and serial number. All non-recreational users will be required to provide the make, model, and serial number when the website is available to all other users.

Comment: Hey. Thanks FAA!

Q. If I own multiple drones, do I have to register them all?

A. No. You may register once and apply the same registration number to all your UAS.

Comment:  We should use this same ‘register once’ model for cars and boats. And there better be a ‘login with Facebook option’ and this damn website!

Q: Does it cost anything to register?

A: Federal law requires owners to pay $5 to register their aircraft. However, registration is free for the first 30 days to encourage speedy registration of UAS. During the first 30 days, you must pay $5 with a credit card and a $5 credit will appear shortly afterwards.

Comment:  Apparently it is going to pay for the estimated $56 million the FAA is saying it will take to build a website which registers users and collects 5 lines of data. Yeh, government spending!

Q. Why do I need to pay to register?

A. The fee will go to pay for the costs of creating the streamlined web-based registry system, and to maintain and improve this system. The FAA is legally required to charge a registration fee.

Comment:  OK.  Lawyers tell clients that we are legally and ethically obligated to make them pay their own costs.  Oh shit!  The FAA stole our best scam!

Q. The website said registration is free. Why am I being charged $5?

A. The credit card transaction helps authenticate the user. You will see a credit for the $5 shortly after the charge appears.

Comment: Bullshit.  They want to make sure you provide ‘real’ and accurate information.  The credit card can be traced to you in case you fudge your name and address.

Q. When must UAS owners who purchased their aircraft before December 21, 2015 register?

A. UAS operated by the current owner prior to December 21, 2015, must be registered no later than February 19, 2016. For all other UAS, registration is required prior to operation.

Comment: It takes longer than that to get my 14 year old to mow the fucking lawn!  You expect teenagers to get registered 6 weeks after opening their new drone, which they wont be able to fly until the snow melts.  The FAA clearly must not have kids.

Q. Is there a registration renewal requirement for UAS, like there is for manned aircraft?

A. Yes. You will be required to renew every three years and you must pay a $5 renewal fee.

Comment:  Annuity revenue is the best kind of revenue.  The FAA will be going IPO based on its drone registration business model by 2020.

Q. What should I expect once I complete my registration on the UAS website?

A. You will receive a unique registration number that applies to any and all UAS that you own. You must mark all of your UAS with the unique registration number before operating. A registration certificate that contains the unique FAA registration number, the issue and expiration dates, and the name of the certificate holder will be sent to your email address immediately.

Comment:  It better get me discounts on my rental cars and movie tickets.

Certificate of Registration

Q. How do I prove I am registered?

A. A certificate of registration will be available to download and will be sent to your email address at the time of registration. When operating your UAS you must be able to present the certificate in either print or electronic format if asked for proof of registration.

Comment:  Duh.  The Arizona model.  Of course your stupid registration card will be in your wallet or purse along with all the other most important things in your life which you ALWAYS carry with you.

Q. Do I have to have a printout of my certificate with me?

A. No. If you are asked to show your certificate of registration, you can show it electronically. You do not have to print the certificate.

Comment:  Oh FAA.  You are so very kind to us. But you realize that our phone is already sucked dry by running DJI Go for a 15 minute flight?

Q. If I let someone borrow my drone do I have to give them the Certificate of Registration?

A. Yes, anyone who operates your drone must have the Certificate of Aircraft Registration in their possession. You can give them a paper copy, email it to them, or they can show it electronically from the registration website.

Comment:  Uh.  Are you fu-king kidding?  Do you see me giving my driver’s license to my kid when he borrows the car?  And if I did, do you think I would ever get it back? I don’t see anything on here about replacement cards. I expect to lose, misplace, forget a lot of these suckers.

Q. Why does the certificate I received constitute recognition of registration for US citizens and permanent residents, but only recognition of ownership for foreign nationals? Have I complied with the requirement to register?

A. All users can submit information to the UAS registry; however, the law only permits the FAA to register aircraft belonging to United States citizens and permanent residents. For all others, the certificate received from the registry comprises a recognition of ownership, rather than a registration. Foreign nationals who have completed the recognition of ownership process and wish to receive a rebate for the $5 registration fee may contact the FAA. Nonetheless, all users are encouraged to submit their information and mark their UAS. This will facilitate the recovery of the UAS, should it be lost or stolen.

Comment: Well, you made up all your other ‘authority’ to create drone registration.  Why stop at US citizens? Geez.  Just keep making up your authority.  Know one will suspect.

Marking and operating your UAS before you fly

Q. Will my drone require an N-number or sticker?

A. No. You will receive a unique registration number, not an N-number, and you must mark the registration number on your UAS by some means that is legible and allows the number to be readily seen. The registration number may be placed in a battery compartment as long as it can be accessed without the use of tools.

Comment: Unless it is commercial. Then it will apparently require both the pencil and a baseball bat enema until March.

Q. Is putting my AMA number on my drone enough?

A. No. Not at this time. The registration system will generate a unique FAA registration number, which you must mark on your aircraft.

Comment:  The AMA lost this fight on behalf of their members.  To bad, they would have picked up a lot of members f they had won. At least their got the only company, entity or organizational shout out on the FAA FAQ! Impressive AMA.  Very impressive.

Q. Would putting my contact information on my drone be enough?

A. No, you must mark it with the FAA registration number.

Comment: The FAA can’t get your credit card number that way.  And they want local police to be able to use the database to track you down quickly.  If you are from the middle east and Donald Trump is elected, the local police may just shoot you  on suspicion of terrorism and spare you the large fines and jail time.

Q. How do I mark my unmanned aircraft with the unique registration number?

A. You may use any method to affix the number, such as permanent marker, label, engraving, or other means, as long as the number is readily accessible and maintained in a condition that is readable and legible upon close visual inspection. If your unmanned aircraft has an easily accessible battery compartment you may affix the number in that compartment.

Comment:  I think I will start a business which creates cool stickers or tags for affixing registration numbers to drones and decorative water-proof registration card holders (this idea is copyright protected. Idea theft is a crime and will be dealt with accordingly)!

Operating information

Q. May I operate my UAS once I register?

A. Completion of the registration process does not provide authorization to operate your UAS. Please refer to for requirements pertaining to operating authorization.

Comment:  Ha Ha.  That is a link to THIS FAQ page.  Why not just answer the fuc-ing question?

Q. How high is 400 feet?

A. Typical buildings have floors that are 12-14 feet high. A 30-40 story building would be about 400 feet high. If you lose sight of your unmanned aircraft, it is probably above 400 feet.

Comment:  Tall buildings?  If you are going to provide information to demographic segments you need to speak the language.  For kids between 14-22, that is as high as two joints of  ‘bluberry bud’ marijuana. For adults over 50, that is the height of Godzilla in the old school TV shows which somehow made the three network TV channels on the weekends.


Q. Who can see the data that I can enter?

A. The FAA will be able to see the data that you enter. The FAA is using a contractor to maintain the website and database, and that contractor also will be able to see the data that you enter. Like the FAA, the contractor is required to comply with strict legal requirements to protect the confidentiality of the personal data you provide. Under certain circumstances, law enforcement officers might also be able to see the data.

Comment:  So let us see.  That is everyone at the FAA, whoever these contractors are and all of law enforcement.  People can also search by registration number and pull up registered user names and addresses. Hell.  Just give my home address to the Anonymous hacker group right now so someone can create a false account for me with Ashley Madison.

Q. Will my email address be used for other purposes? Will you make it available to other agencies or companies?

A. No.

Comment: Hmm.  Let’s revisit this one once I am getting spam email from websites who want to help me renew my registration number for only $25? 

Q. Why is the current Aircraft Registry fully searchable but this one is not?

A. The current Aircraft Registry is most frequently used to record the documents used to secure the financing of the aircraft and to aid in proof of ownership. Full searchability of that portion of the Aircraft Registry is needed to enable those purposes. It is much less likely that UAS in the .55 pound to 55 pounds category will require secured financing or need to affirmatively prove ownership. The Government, in accordance with the requirements of the Privacy Act, protects and generally does not release personal information. Given the nature of UAS, in particular, the risk that the communications link between the operator of the UAS is disrupted or lost, and the risk of losing the UAS is larger than it is for other types of aircraft. Allowing searches of the unique identifying number of UAS will enable the return of these aircraft to their owners.

Comment:  There it is.  The weasel in the wood stack.  Hide the truth in the last sentence of an unrelated FAQ.  “Allowing searches of the unique identifying number of UAS will enable the return of these aircraft to their owners.” If someone knows your registration number, they can search for you by name and address (perhaps phone?) using the FAA registration system.  Or I can just run a scraping algorithm on the page and get everyone’s information once we know sequencing.

Other questions on the registry

Q: A pilot cannot read a number on a drone so how will registering protect traditional aircraft?

A: A registration requirement encourages a culture of accountability and responsibility. Much like registering a motor vehicle, registering a drone ties a specific person to a specific aircraft. Greater accountability will help protect innovation, which is in danger of being undermined by reckless behavior. This requirement mirrors the requirement for manned operations and commercial UAS operations.

Comment:  The FAA really wants a point of contact where they can tell the idiot pilots that there ARE RULES!   Just wait and see. The registration website will have a ‘click wrap’ which forces users to ‘agree’ that they will follow the FAA’s version of the regulations. I am going to be pissed if all these supposed drone sightings by aircraft which somehow justify all this turn out to be UFOs.

Q: Someone intent on harm will not register a drone, so doesn’t this requirement just penalize responsible people who are excited about UAS?

A: Although no system or requirement is 100 percent effective against people intent on doing harm, registration heightens public awareness about what safe UAS operations look like. In addition, registration establishes a shared understanding that operating this type of aircraft for business or pleasure comes with certain responsibilities and expectations and that the public will be watching for and reporting bad actors, just as they do today for other safety and security-related concerns. Registration also enables us to educate UAS owners on safe operations.

Comment:  Drones don’t fly near airports.  People fly drones near airports.

Q. How do I find out how much my drone weighs?

A. A consumer kitchen or postal scale that measures in ounces or grams is an easy and convenient method. The weight limit is only for the flying portion of the Unmanned Aircraft System and does not include the weight of the controller.

Comment:   OK.  The only scale in my house are hidden under my oldest son’s bed.  And if I borrowed that, I would have to also ask him what it is for.   No thanks FAA!  That $5 just went up by $8 more dollars. I am getting my own scale and will hope my kids don’t ask why I own a scale that measures grams and ounces.  .

Q. Is the weight on the box the weight of the drone?

A. Not necessarily. If you add a camera or anything else to the drone, it may change the weight. To be sure, you should weigh it.

Comment:   Like many women, drone manufacturers often lie about their weight.

Q. If I don’t have a scale and my drone doesn’t appear on the list is there another method to tell how much it weighs?

A. Two sticks of butter weigh 0.5 lbs.

Comment:  OMG.  The FAA obviously is spending too much time in the kitchen. Did they really include this in their FAQ?  Stick butter sales just went up 20%.

Q. If a drone crashes in my yard what do I do?

A. Call local law enforcement.

Comment: Or wait two minutes for the operator to show up and say “Have you seen my drone.”  then you can say “What is your registration number?’  When the operator says “What registration number,” inform him/her about the 5 years of jail time they are facing, then keep the drone.

Q. Is there a limit to how many drones I can own?

A. No

Comment:  Who would even want a drone after having to read this HUGE FAQ?

Q. If I register and then give the drone as a gift am I liable for its use?

A. Laws governing liability for damage caused by drones vary by state. If the gift recipient is a minor, in some states you might have some liability if the drone causes damage. For federal civil aviation law purposes, the operator of the drone is liable for its use.

Comment:  As a lawyer, I LOVE this interpretation. This means I can sue the drone operator and the original buyer for – injury – trespass – nuisance – negligence – negligence per se – invasion of privacy – public policy tort.  Rev up the printer, we are suing everyone@!

Q. I am a citizen of a foreign country who lives in the United States. How do I know if I can register a drone with the FAA?

A. Federal law allows an individual citizen of another country who has been lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the United States under the regulations of the Department of Homeland Security to register an aircraft, including a drone, with the FAA.

Comment:  Hmm.  ‘Allows’ is a strange word to use here.  ‘Requires..?”.

Q. If the State or town I live requires me to register my drone, do I still need to register it with the FAA?

A. Yes. Federal law requires that all aircraft, including drones, be registered with the FAA prior to operation in the US.

Comment:  The better question. Can a state require you to register a drone?  Man, I can almost smell the litigation.  



  1. good guy

    Just waiting to hear about the bad guy who uses a good guys number and then the feds bust the good guy who’s completely innocent.

  2. David

    Flying aircraft is serious. Are you over 13?

    If you can’t take it seriously just don’t fly. Amazing how simple it really is.

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