[Updated Jan 2018] How to Register a Drone – In 5 Easy Steps

Confused about how to register a drone?  Don’t worry…the process is very simple.  We’ll show you the steps involved and also provide some additional tips and insight into the whole registration process.  Registration is different, depending on whether you’re registering commercially or for recreational use.  Our quick guide on how to register a drone will focus on the recreational user, or hobbyist.  If you want to fly commercially, read on for those requirements.

Update January 2018 – Congress Restores FAA’s Drone Registry with Passage of the National Defense Authorization Act

Registration of hobby drones in the U.S. is once again required after its short lived hiatus.  On December 12 2017, congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act which, among other things, re-instated the registry requirement that was originally created two years earlier.  Hey, at least this time it’s legal.

The new law went into effect on December 23, 2017 and keeps all the original rules and registration process intact.  The same 5 step method below, still applies, so if you’re wondering how to register your drone just read on below to see how.

Update June 2017 – FAA’s Drone Registry Struck Down by Federal Appeals Court

Registration of hobby drones is no longer required as of May 19th 2017!  You can read more about the drone registry appeal by following this link.

If you plan to use your drone to make money though, you are still required to register.  Scroll down below to the “How to Register a Drone for Commercial Flying” heading to learn more about what you need to do if you’re going commercial.

How to Register a Drone for Recreational Flying

As of December 21, 2015, the FAA requires ALL owners of RC model aircraft weighing between 0.55 lbs and 55 lbs to register online before flying their drone outdoors.  If you’re unsure of whether your drone needs to be registered, check out Wired’s extensive list here and see if yours is listed.

The registration is valid for 3 years and is attached to the pilot, not the aircraft.  So it doesn’t matter if you have one drone or a hundred, you only need register yourself, not all of your drones or planes.  You’ll have to fork over some personal info (name, email, home address) in order to get your certificate, and pay a $5 registration fee. (registration was free before January 21, 2016)

Overall, the process is very simple which is kind of surprising. Simple and efficient is really not what comes to mind when you think of a federal government agency.  Anyway it only takes 5 simple steps, they’re outlined below.

5 Simple Steps

1. The first step is to head over to the FAA’s official registration page, check out the sweet graphics, and click REGISTER.

2. Next you’ll create an account by entering your email address and a password of your choosing.  You’ll need to be 13 or older to create an account, or have someone create it for you.  You will have to do the whole email verification dance, so once that’s complete proceed to the next step.

3. Enter the rest of your info (name and mailing address) and also agree to the FAA’s safety guidance list.

4. Pay up! Enter your credit card info, and confirm all the info on the review screen.

5. That’s it…you’re now registered. (told you it was easy) You should now be able to see your unique 10-digit registration number, which you’ll need to affix somewhere to any reg-applicable drone you fly.  The FAA will also email you a registration certificate, that will look like this:

FAA Drone Registration Certificate
A copy of my drone registration certificate

Print it out or save it somewhere on your phone.  Either way, make sure it’s accessible anytime you are flying your drone or plane.  The FAA also wants you to adhere to their operating rules while flying (the guidelines you agreed to earlier).  The guidelines are listed on your registration, like in the image above or the list below.

The FAA’s Safety Guidelines

  • Stay below 400 feet, 1/3 the limit of Class G airspace
  • ALWAYS yield right of way to manned aircraft and never fly near them
  • You have to keep your aircraft in visual line of sight.  That means you must be able to maintain eye contact with it, no matter its position.
  • Stay away from emergency responders – police helicopters, wildfire efforts, etc…don’t be dumb, and don’t get in their way
  • Don’t fly over stadiums, other sports events or large groups of people
  • If you plan to fly withing 5 miles of an airport, you MUST notify the airport authorities and air traffic control
  • Never fly when you’re buzzed, save it for post flight!  

So now you know how to register a drone with the federal government, and as you have seen the process isn’t as intimidating as it may seem.  I should mention though, that your info will be listed in a public searchable database…despite FAA claims of the contrary.  So you will have to give up some privacy in order to fly your drone without the threat of penalty, flyer be warned.  It seems like the penalty is pretty steep too.  The FAA says you could be hit with a civil fine of up to $27, 500 and criminal penalties can be as high as $250K, or 3 years in prison!

So now you know how to register a drone, but maybe you’re still looking for the right one?  Head over to this list, and check out some of the top camera drones with GPS.

Some Additional Useful Info

The 10-digit registration number is required to be visible and permanently attached to your aircraft.  If the thought of this makes you cringe as much as me, there is some relief.  The rules do allow for it to be placed inside a battery compartment, as long as it can be opened without any special tools.

If you’re into FPV (first person view) flying and want to do it outdoors, check what the Academy of Model Aeronautics has to say on the subject.  They have been working with the FAA to protect their members and believe they are legal when it comes to FPV (as long as their guidelines are followed).

Knowing exactly where you can and can’t fly isn’t very easy to determine sometimes, especially if you’re taking your drone somewhere new to fly.  Check out Airmap for a searchable map of local temporary and permanent airspace restrictions.  It can be pretty useful, I use it all the time when going on vacation.  You may think the spot you’re going to is secluded and away from major airports, but I never realized just how many smaller airports or other restrictions there were in my state.  Airmap really comes in handy with identifying the not so obvious restrictions around you.  It’s also available in android and apple versions too, so you can take your map on the go.

How to Register a Drone for Commercial Flying

If you want to fly your drone and make money from it, the government as set forth some additional requirements.  If you’re not familiar with the commercial aspect of it, you may be wondering “how can you make money from flying a drone?”

dhl delivery droneThere are actually many, many commercial applications of drones…in fact the commercial market is growing faster than the consumer drone market.  Some examples of why you’d want to fly commercially are: providing aerial surveying services, aerial photography services, real estate photography services, roof inspections, structure inspection, delivery, and the list goes on and on.

Photo by Sam Churchill, (CC BY 2.0)

The first national set of commercial drone requirements were recently finalized and released on August 29, 2016.  Known to the community as “Part 107” or “FAA Part 107”, the terms refer to Title 14 of the Federal Aviation Regulation, Part 107.

FAA Part 107 Requirements for First Time Pilots

Please note there are slightly different requirements if you are an existing pilot, but this article will simply focus on the first time applicant.  In addition to registering your drone using the process above, you’ll need to pass an extensive aeronautical knowledge test, apply for a remote pilot certificate and pass a TSA background check.  But if you succeed you can officially call yourself a certified remote drone pilot – which sounds pretty cool!

The certificate will be valid for 2 years at which point you’ll have to pass a recurring knowledge test in order to re-up for another 2.  The minimum age is a bit older, at 16, and you have to be able to read, speak, write and understand English.  You also have to be in a proper physical and mental condition to safely fly the aircraft.

Steps Required in the Remote Pilot Certification Process

In order to get your remote pilot’s certificate, you’ll need to complete the following steps:

1. Schedule yourself an appointment at an FAA Knowledge Testing Center.  Click here to see a list.  Don’t forget to bring your government issued ID.

2. Show up, take the test and pass it.  The FAA says you’ll be tested on each of these areas, so be sure to study!

a) Regulations on sUAS (small unmanned aircraft system) rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation

b) Airspace classification, operating requirements, and flight restrictions

c) Aviation weather sources and effects on sUAS

d) sUAS loading and performancetaking an exam

e) Emergency procedures

f) Crew resource management

g) Radio communication procedures

h) Determining the performance of small unmanned aircraft

i) Effects of drugs and alcohol

j) Aeronautical decision making and judgement

k) Airport operations

l) Maintenance and preflight inspection procedures

3. After you pass the knowledge exam, you’ll have to complete FAA form 8710-13 for a remote pilot certificate.  To do this, you need to register and use the FAA”s IACRA (Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application) system.  You can’t do this step until after you’ve taken the test since you’ll need your 17 digit exam ID to register for IACRA.

4. Once your security background check has been completed by the TSA, you will get an email with instructions for printing a temporary copy of your remote pilot certificate.  Yay!…you’re now a remote drone pilot!  You’ll eventually get your permanent certificate in the mail.

That’s it, now you can legally make money with your drone!

I hope you’ve found this article, on how to register a drone, useful.  Please feel free to leave your feedback below, I would love to hear your thoughts on the whole drone registration process.

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