Federal Drone Registration Regulations
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 20, 2016
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The growing popularity of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), more commonly known as "drones," has prompted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to implement federal drone registration regulations. While civilians don't have access to military drones, simpler versions of the flying devices, marketed to children and hobbyists, can be found in most hobby and toy shops. In addition, government agencies, businesses, and nongovernmental organizations have been finding novel ways to use drones for surveillance and other applications.
Whether you use a UAS to monitor the flight patterns of monarch butterflies or just for fun with your friends after school, you may be required to register your device with the FAA. The factors that determine whether you need to register, in addition to the steps involved, are summarized below. Also, be sure to check out the drone laws in your state before you take flight.
Drones that Require Registration with the FAA
Owners of drones must be at least 13 years old and a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident in order to register their UAS; those younger than 13 may have someone else register on their behalf. Drones weighing less than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) typically are exempt from the registration requirement, which includes most children's toys. However, keep in mind that anything added to a drone (such as a camera or sensor) counts toward the weight limit. The FAA provides examples of drones that do (and do not) require registration.
Online Federal Drone Registration Regulations: Step-by-Step
If your drone (minus the controller or anything else that remains on the ground) weighs more than 0.55 pounds but less than 55 pounds, you may register online. Those who use their drones for commercial purposes or plan to use them outside of the United States, regardless of weight, must register their drones using paper forms.
To register your drone online, follow these steps:
- Log onto the FAA's online Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) Registration Service.
- Enter your email address and create a password; check your email inbox to activate your account.
- Log into your account and provide your full name and contact information (including your physical address and a mailing address if it's different).
- Proceed to "checkout" and pay the $5 registration fee, after which you will be provided with a unique registration number.
- FAA regulations require that you mark all of your drones with your registration number prior to operating them.
- Registration is good for three years, but may be renewed.
Offline (Paper) Drone Registration: Step-by-Step]
Drone operators will have to register using the FAA's Aircraft Registry instead of the online registry if their drone weighs more than 55 pounds, is used for non-recreational purposes, is owned by a company instead of an individual, or will be used outside of the United States. The agency plans to expand online registration in the future.
To register a drone that is currently ineligible for online registration, follow these steps:
1. Complete Form AC 8050-1 (Aircraft Registration Application)
- May be obtained from an FAA Aircraft Registration Branch.
- Limited liability companies (LLCs) must provide additional information.
- For more details about the initial registration process, see FAA form AFS-750.
2. Description of the Drone
- This should include the full legal name of the manufacturer, model designation, serial number, class (i.e. Airplane, Airship, Rotorcraft, Glider, Hybrid Lift, Ornithopter), maximum take-off weight, category (i.e. able to land on land, sea, or both), number of engines, and engine type.
- For drones greater than 55 pounds, you must also include the name of the engine manufacturer, engine model designation, engine serial numbers (if applicable), and engine power output.
3. Evidence of Ownership
- Either an Aircraft Bill of Sale (Form AC 8050-2) or some other transfer of ownership document documenting each change in ownership.
- If such documentation is unavailable, the owner may submit a notarized form with the drone's description, name and address of seller, date of purchase, and other supporting evidence, such as a receipt or shipping invoice.
- The drone description and evidence of ownership may be combined into a single, notarized document.
4. Confirmation That the Drone Is Not Registered in Another Country
- Drones imported from another country may require a statement from the exporting country's Civil Aviation Authority confirming that it has not been registered in that country.
- If receipt or invoice clearly shows that the drone was purchased new from the manufacturer or retailer, then a statement from the exporting country is not required.
5. N-Number to Be Assigned to the Aircraft
- If you haven't already reserved a special N-number, then one will randomly be assigned to you.
6. Pay $5 Registration Fee
- Send payment and all requested documentation to the FAA's Aircraft Registration Branch.
Get Legal Help with Federal Drone Registration 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. But registrations by businesses and other non-recreational users can be much more complicated, including the need for notarized documents. If you have any legal concerns about the use or registration of your drone, contact an attorney licensed in your state.
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