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Federal Drone Registration Regulations

Drones are growing in popularity. Though you can't buy a military drone, you might use a drone as a hobbyist, educator, or professional.

While these “small unmanned aircraft systems" (sUAS) have many uses, public safety is always a concern. When buying a drone, your product should come with an operation manual. But it probably won't come with all the instructions you need to meet the legal requirements.

In this guide, discover whether you need to register your drone. You can also see an overview of each step in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) registration process.

Before flying, also read about the drone laws in your state. You may need to take extra steps beyond registering at the federal level.

Do I Need To Register My Drone?

Whether you plan to fly a recreational or commercial drone, you'll likely need to register it with the government. The FAA manages federal drone registration and the rest of the national airspace system.

Drones that weigh 0.55 pounds (250 grams) or more must have FAA registration. Anything you attach to a drone, such as a camera or sensor, counts toward the weight limit.

Drones for recreational purposes weighing less than 0.55 pounds are typically exempt from the registration requirement. For example, most drones advertised as children's toys don't need federal registration.

Who Can Register a Drone?

Recreational flyers and commercial operators must be U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents to register their UAS. Drone owners must also be at least 13 years of age to register. Owners younger than 13 may have someone else register on their behalf.

The Online Federal Drone Registration Process

You may register online if your drone is more than 0.55 pounds but less than 55 pounds. Online registration is now available for both recreational and commercial purposes.

To register your drone online, follow these steps:

  1. Visit the FAA Drone Zone. Click the button to create a new account.
  2. Enter your legal name, email address, and a unique password. Check your email inbox to activate your account.
  3. Log into your account and provide your full name and contact information, including your physical address and mailing address (if different). Add your drone's information.
  4. Proceed to online checkout and pay the $5 registration fee. You will receive a unique registration number.

Before flying drones, FAA regulations require you to mark all of them with your registration number.

How To Register Your Drone by Mail

Drone operators must register through paper forms if any of the following apply:

  • The drone weighs more than 55 pounds
  • The drone flights will occur outside of the United States
  • The drone ownership is part of a trust
  • The drone owner meets U.S. citizenship requirements through a voting trust

To register a drone ineligible for the online process, follow the steps below.

Complete Form AC 8050-1

Form AC 8050-1 is the Aircraft Registration Application. You can get this form from an FAA Aircraft Registration Branch near you or download the application from the FAA website.

For more details about the initial registration process, see REG-AR-94. This FAA form explains special cases, such as what to do if you co-own the drone. It also explains how to register drones as a limited liability company (LLC).

Description of the Drone

Include all relevant details about your drone, including the following:

  • Full legal name of the manufacturer
  • Model designation
  • Serial number
  • Class (i.e., airplane, airship, rotorcraft, glider, hybrid lift, ornithopter)
  • Category (i.e., able to land on land, sea, or both)
  • Maximum take-off weight
  • Number of engines and engine type

For drones over 55 pounds, you must also include the following:

  • Name of the engine manufacturer
  • Engine model designation
  • Engine serial numbers (if applicable)
  • Engine power output

Evidence of Ownership

You must include either an Aircraft Bill of Sale (Form AC 8050-2) or another transfer of ownership document showing each change in ownership.

If such documentation is unavailable, the owner may submit a notarized form with the following:

  • Drone's description
  • Seller's name and address
  • Date of purchase
  • Other supporting evidence, such as a receipt or shipping invoice

You can combine the drone description and evidence of ownership into a single, notarized document.

Confirm the Drone Isn't Registered in Another Country

Drones imported from another country may require a statement from the exporting country's Civil Aviation Authority. The foreign country must confirm it hasn't already registered your drone.

If the receipt or invoice clearly shows you purchased the drone (brand new) from the manufacturer or retailer, then a statement from the exporting country is not required.

Get an N-Number Assigned to the Aircraft

An N-number is a code that identifies your drone. This code begins with the letter “N" to signify that it belongs to an entity or citizen of the United States. The registration numbers and letters after the “N" are unique to your drone.

The FAA allows you to request a specific N-number. You can search available N-numbers on the FAA website (FAA.Gov) database. If you haven't already reserved one, the FAA will randomly assign one.

Pay the Registration Fee

The registration cost is the same for mail-in FAA drone registration: only $5. Send payment and all requested documentation to the FAA's Aircraft Registration Branch.

When Does Federal Drone Registration Expire?

Federal registration is only valid for three years. But you can renew your registration before it expires. Flying a drone without the correct registration is illegal.

Do I Need to Join a CBO To Register My Drone?

No, you don't need to be a Community-Based Organization (CBO) member to complete federal registration. Recreational drone pilots can be unaffiliated with groups.

FAA-recognized CBOs include:

  • The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA)
  • The Flite Test Community Association (FTCA)
  • STEM+C
  • The First Person View Freedom Coalition (FPVFC)

Don't assume you're exempt from the rules by not joining a CBO. Even if you aren't a member, you must follow the FAA-approved safety guidelines CBOs use. These guidelines generally explain technical drone regulations and operational rules.

Complete Post-Registration Requirements

You'll have a few tasks after registration before you can fly your drone. Your drone usage and local laws could involve many other waivers or requirements. Traveling to other countries with your drone also introduces extra-legal considerations.

The next step depends on whether you need a commercial drone license. But as with most moving vehicles, flying a model aircraft or camera drone for fun still requires proof that you passed an exam.

Recreational Flyers: TRUST

You must pass the Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) before launching your drone. This test is like a simple written driver's exam for drones.

This requirement applies to all drones for recreational use — not just drones that need FAA registration. It also applies to drone pilots of all ages, including children who fly toy drones.

TRUST checks your basic safety and aeronautical knowledge. For example, it confirms that you know how to prevent accidents by yielding to manned aircraft and only flying within your visual line of sight.

Commercial Flyers: UAG

Flying drones for any commercial purpose requires a license. Commercial uses include activities like event videography or aerial photos for real estate listings.

You'll need a Remote Pilot Certificate (14 C.F.R. Part 107) to fly a commercial drone. During the application process, you'll take the Unmanned Aircraft General (UAG) for small UAS operators. This knowledge test is more thorough than TRUST.

Does My Drone Need Remote ID?

Yes, you will likely need Remote ID to fly your registered drone in most places. Remote ID allows you to broadcast your drone's registration or N-number and its location. This information helps manage the flow of air traffic.

But there are a few exceptions. If your drone doesn't need FAA registration, the Remote ID rule doesn't apply. You can usually also forego it if you only fly your drone in FAA-Recognized Identification Areas (FRIAs). Many FRIAs are located in sections of parks and secluded properties.

Get Legal Help With Drone Regulations

If you're flying a drone in the backyard for fun, chances are you don't need an attorney to help with the registration process. Registering for businesses and other non-recreational users can be much more complicated, including the need for notarized documents.

Drone owners may also encounter a legal dispute about how or why they fly. Injuries and property damage may risk personal or business liability. A drone pilot might even face criminal charges after a run-in with local law enforcement.

If you have any legal concerns about using or registering your drone, contact an attorney licensed in your state. Drone law can be complicated. You can find the right lawyer for your particular legal needs and discuss your options.

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