10 Reasons to Register With the FAA by January 21, Even If You Don't Have Your Drone Yet

10 Reasons to Register With the FAA by January 21, Even If You Don't Have Your Drone Yet

Just in time for 2016, the FAA released a registration system and will require anyone currently operating unmanned aerial systems (UAS), otherwise known as "drones," to register by February 19 of this year. Although the FAA's legal authority over this issue is questionable and although this applies to anyone flying drones only within certain weight guidelines for hobby or recreational use outdoors, there are a number of reasons you should register in the next 10 days, even if these particular circumstances do not apply to you.

1. It's Free, For Now

In order to encourage would-be or current recreational drone operators to register under these new guidelines, the FAA is making drone registration free for the first 30 days of the process' opening. Registration opened December 21, so that gives everyone until midnight on the evening of January 20 to register. Although you still have to provide a credit card (which will be charged five dollars), the fee will be refunded to you (however, it doesn't say when this refund will happen during the process). Five dollars isn't a lot to pay if you miss this deadline (and you should still register if you do for the following nine reasons), but it's nice not to spend any money when you can avoid it.

2. You Don't Even Need to Have a Drone, But It's OK If You Have 10

Brilliantly (Thank you, common sense), the registration process registers you as a recreational drone operator, not each individual drone. So whether you don't have your drone yet or whether you're nearing a dozen, you're only facing one completely free (or at most, $5) registration.

3. It Lasts for Three Years

I don't have a drone yet, but I'm on a pre-order list for a couple and plan to get more as I find products that best suit my intended needs. I'm not worried about when these arrive, however, because my registration will last until 2019. If you're the type that likes to milk every last day, then wait until January 20 to register and give yourself the last possible renewal date that still benefits from a registration fee rebate.

4. Don't Wanna Mess with the G-Men

According to current, surprisingly understandable laws put in place by Congress to protect model aircraft operators, the FAA doesn't seem to have the legal authority to regulate non-commercial drone use. That non-commercial bit means that they do have every right to regulate how you use your drone if you benefit monetarily from work product created with that drone — so don't confuse a "simple" flight for little pay with a "recreational" one. But in terms of recreational use, some could easily argue that the new FAA regulations are unenforceable and beyond the scope of power granted to FAA by Congress.

Still, do you really want to be the one taking the FAA to court as you argue about the fines levied against you? My best advice: let someone else do it, because it'll happen soon enough. In the meantime, try to be nice and understand there are real issues that the FAA is trying to curb with what is currently a free and extremely reasonable process, which brings us to number 5...

5. Registration Is So Damn Easy

I didn't time it, but I'd be lying if I said the entire registration process took me longer than three minutes (would have taken two if I'd had my credit card information handy). You need your address, your name, an email, a half of a halfway decent password, and a credit card. Accept some terms and conditions, and you're done.

6. Compliance Is So Damn Easy

Since you register yourself (and not your drone) you get one identification number that you can, and must, affix to all of your drones in any reasonable way you choose. It has to be in an area accessible without a tool, which means it can be in a battery compartment as long as that compartment clicks open with ease. Write it in with a Sharpie, break out that label-maker you never get the chance to use, or let your five-year-old carve it in with a screwdriver she found in the shed. It all works just fine. But you won't have to send in any information about your new purchases throughout the years as you accumulate, sell, or trade drones (word of advice: make sure you can scratch it out or remove it somehow with ease in case you do get rid of it. You don't want someone else crashing the White House lawn with a drone marked with your ID.

A short bullet-point list of guidelines adds to the ease of understanding what you're supposed to and not supposed to do (and there's even an app to help you identify temporarily and permanently restricted airspace).

7. You Get to Practice

So commercial use is still somewhat up in the air (and by "somewhat up in the air," I mean you still need to have a friggin' legit pilot's license to operate a drone for commercial use until the FAA creates something easier for us). But in the meantime, you can use your drone under a legal safety net that maxes out at an altitude of 400 feet. The FAA does remind you to practice safe flying guidelines like staying away from people, buildings, other flying vehicles, airports, and emergency service operations. But be smart, and you can get all the practice you need before you spring for your commercial "license to drone."

8. You're Forced to Take Responsibility, And That's a Good Thing

Unless your drone completely burns up in a fiery demise, you can and will be held accountable for any actions you take that go beyond the scope of what's afforded you by law and that could or do cause injury to others. Some might say that registration is therefore not in your best self-interest, but that's really only true if any morsel of a code of ethics or morals aren't a part of your self-interest. For most of us good people out there (that might be too optimistic, but I'm going to hope it's not), it's good to promote accepting responsibility for whatever mistakes we make. Either way, if ethics isn't your thing, then the law probably isn't either, in which case it's amazing you're reading this article at all.

9. You Get to Be A Part of Something That Really Helps

Irresponsible drone usage is simply too common. Specific case studies within the FAA's "Interim Final Rule Regulatory Evaluation" on the drone registration and marking issue detail reasons that some regulation is necessary, calling on a number of incidents. A drone crashed on the White House lawn. Another sent debris out that resulted in an 11-month-old girl being treated for head injuries. Another drone delayed firefighting aircraft for 20 minutes in a rapidly growing California wildfire that burned 3,500 acres in four hours on a hot, windy day. That same report estimated the fire could have been contained within less than 100 acres without the 20-minute delay. The list goes on.

By registering yourself as a drone operator and by including your registration ID on your drone, you help promote a safer, better world in which we can operate.

10.  You'll Make Better Decisions

There's nothing like just a little pressure to make you check yourself and the decisions you're about to make. Being registered creates a good reason for a second round of asking yourself, "Is this a good idea?" That can be a great measure of prevention for any number of disasters, from losing your drone to causing serious harm to a group of people at an event.

Adam Ottke's picture

Adam works mostly across California on all things photography and art. He can be found at the best local coffee shops, at home scanning film in for hours, or out and about shooting his next assignment. Want to talk about gear? Want to work on a project together? Have an idea for Fstoppers? Get in touch! And, check out FilmObjektiv.org film rentals!

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I would love to get a drone but the constant "I'll shoot the damn thing out of the sky" types of comments from people makes me extremely nervous. I'm aware that if someone shoots down my drone, they're responsible for that...but that's if you're able to catch them. That's a lot if money to put at risk.

I'm not sure where you live, but I think the odds of people actually shooting your drone out of the sky are pretty slim. Not that they can't do it if they want to, but there was one isolated incident that I'm aware of, which isn't much considering the number of people and the number of guns in the U.S. I think the bigger risk is your own ability to learn how to control the drone and not crash it (a LOT of people end up crashing them earlier on as they're learning what it can/can't do).

But yes, it's a lot of money just for "recreational" purposes regardless.

It's not really that somebody WOULD do that...it's just the basic threat that is thrown out there. I'd love to take it on vacation with me but when I've asked about that in other forums, it's been pretty much a hostile response.

Yeah... I think people automatically assume anyone else they're talking to is an idiot (which is a smart survival instinct and sometimes too often is right). But seeing as you're already showing concern and caution, it seems you're handling the responsibility appropriately at the very least (more so than others, anyway). :-)

It's a great hobby so I always encourage people to get into it. There are plenty of places to fly a drone and to stay out of people's way even if you are in a large city. If you fly around people's homes and invade their privacy then you can expect trouble.

Thanks for the link! Just registered now. I crashed the Phantom 3 I received for X-mas about a dozen times into trees. I think registering with the FAA will force me to be a better pilot. After all, I am not an FAA-registered drone operator :-)

Well now you are! So you should be much better ;-)

In all seriousness, I'm pretty familiar with the idea of people getting new drones and wanting to test them out in every way possible, which inevitably leads to unforeseen crashes. At this point, I fully expect to crash my own drone(s) when it/they arrive. But I'll do my best to keep them aloft and gradually increase the complexity of the types of maneuvers I do over time, and always away from people.

Hope your Phantom is okay!

I registered my drone, and am curious to see what this means to me in general. Between this and the B4UFLY app, it's slowed/stymied the amount of flying down to a minimum.

The app is particularly interesting, because it claims that there are 4 helipads that I need permission from before flying in my area of Chicago. Seven if I want to fly closer to downtown.

I'm in a small network of drone owners and we're all in kind of the same predicament. One guy claimed that the helipad gave him hell because they thought he wanted to land on their helipad and they were completely confused by the phone call.

Despite the ease with which we can now register, many, MANY rules are still extremely vague and completely unclear. The fact that most of these rules are simply "guidelines" and not legally binding only adds to the confusion. But in most cases, I think proper common sense suffices (combined with general knowledge of recreational flight rules).

The problem is that proper common sense is increasingly rare...

Hopefully there will be a solution for you sooner rather than later with clearer guidelines from the FAA and increased knowledge about how to deal with such calls by facilities like these helipads, but one thing is for sure: it's always going to be more difficult or perhaps eventually altogether impossible to fly in or around metropolitan areas.

Thanks for taking the time to reply. I've read other folks write that it's only a matter of time before one falls out of the sky and seriously hurts someone before the rules get REALLY strict.

I've already seen some extremely irresponsible flying. And I agree that operating them should be done with sobriety and responsibility. I personally can't afford hurting someone else or someone else's property.

With my growing knowledge of using these for commercial use, I'm wondering if it's viable for me as a company to keep one.

Onward and upward. We'll see.

If you're that worried, it might be prudent to simply stay away from people altogether (which people should do anyway). But also, there is insurance for these things now, too: https://fstoppers.com/aerial/all-too-important-primer-insuring-your-dron...

Also, yes, there's been some incredible irresponsibility. But registration will hopefully help that. And as people see what can happen, they too will know in short time (if they can't figure it out already) how accountable they can be held for their actions (and they will be in the case of serious injury).

At some point, there are all kinds of things in our world that can hurt us every day. Everything we do -- writing laws included -- has to take into a count a level of reason that understands there are simply some risks to being alive (namely, that you might not be anymore sooner than you think due to a number of unforeseen circumstances). We're still fragile, living beings. And I think that when more serious injury does occur, the rules might become slightly more strict, but there'll also be a reconciliation of facts and a realization that only so much can be done (they can't outlaw drones altogether, for example).

To common sense and the hope that people will find some.


so i can't fly it when i'm drinking a lot of red bull ?

Just curious - has anyone registered via the "paper" registration noted for "commercial use"?

A number of higher-end studios/companies/agencies that do aerial video/drone work for hire definitely have done this. There aren't too many in the country today, but there's a good list growing larger every day.

Adam, great article but one thing you forgot to mention is that the FAA makes your name address available to the public once you register. That's not ok with me because it could lead to possible theft of my gear. I've been holding off on registering for that reason alone. They also need a serious revamp on the B4UFLY app as well. It lists heliports and even some cases airports that aren't in use any longer. The Hover and UAV Forecast apps are what most of us use anyways.

Hi, Taylor. I had heard this, too. But when I went to find information on the subject, I couldn't find any direct evidence to support it. The lack of evidence does not prove this isn't true, of course. But I did find a Q&A section with three questions that suggest this will actually not be the case. According to these questions on the FAA website, your email address, address, etc., will not be directly searchable or made available. You would instead have to have the exact registration number of your personal drone registration with the FAA to get your information (and that's so that if someone finds your drone for whatever reason, it or the responsibility of your actions with it can be traced back to you, of course). In this case, this is DISSIMILAR to the standard aircraft registration information sharing model, which does include making names, addresses, etc., publicly available to aid in things like proof of ownership.

Of course, anyone can get hacked, information can be abused, etc. But we all run this risks every day with hundreds of institutions we rely on to constantly keep our data safe. It works...most of the time...

Here are the questions and answers I'm referring to... Please let me know if you find any other information related to this. And thanks for the info on the better app options aside from B4UFLY.

Q52. Updated: 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. In the future, the registration database will be searchable by registration number only, but not by name or address. However, it is not searchable at this time.
Q53. Will my email address be used for other purposes? Will you make it available to other agencies or companies?
A. No.
Q54. 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.

What if your drone with the registration numbers gets lost/stolen or flies away and whoever finds it THEN crashes it into the White House? Is there a way to report missing drones (with markings)?

I'm not sure about this yet, but I can only imagine that there MUST be. Just as you can have your car stolen and crashed into a cop car, you'd be able to say, "Hey, it wasn't me...I reported that stolen...etc., etc." Of course, perhaps the best default method is to simply file a police report as you would with any other stolen property. Then you have legal proof of the theft.

yes but a car has an individual license plate and a chassis number. The FAA plan does not register drone S/N, the number only corresponds to the user. And filing a police report is MUCH more work than filling a 2-minute form online. And you need to have written down the S/N of your lost drone. It seems the FAA wants to make it sound simple but in reality it is much more complicated than what than that...

Soo.. are you saying that if someone stole your 1500$ drone you'd be too lazy to file a police report?

Firstly I think that fly-aways and otherwise lost drones are much more likely that being stolen but in any case unless you have it insured I am not sure what good a police report would be. In any case without a S/N the whole report would be pointless APART from protecting you from the FAA in case of abuse by someone else.

A much better system would have you register as drone pilot AND register the drone with S/N (like cars). That way you could just log online and report it lost/stolen to the FAA and not have to go in the trouble of going to the police.

Hey Adam. Sorry for the delayed response. I read the FAQ as soon as it was released. There was an article on Forbes.com I believe where the FAA actually admitted that they would at some point release the names and addresses of the people who registered. That's a huge problem if it comes to fruition. Whether that actually happens time will tell. It just seems as though the FAA is treating hobbyists the same as manned aircraft owners and those with 333 exemptions. It shouldn't be treated in the same manner because 333 and manned aircraft pilots (in most cases) don't store their aircraft at home. In terms of searching the database via the registration number, that doesn't seem to be a huge deal because most of us will be putting that number out of sight on our UAS. I'm still going hold off on registering until the last possible moment. I want to see if anything progresses between now and then. Again, thanks for the posting the article.

You absolutely raise some good points. And maybe that is where I saw it after all. Interesting (and unsettling) possibilities...

All anyone has to do to protect themselves from the Feds is always ask them this and you will win every single time. "Do they have any factual evidence" that they're law "applies" to me? The really dumb ones will most likely say "yes" which is a felony. Public officials cannot lie about anything. If they say it does, then always follow up with "Can you show me that evidence now please?" Of course they cannot, because it does not exist. It is always merely their arbitrary opinion. "we said so" kind of thing. But by a long established pattern of many supreme court cases, they have to answer that question or the case must be thrown out. This is essentially challenging Jurisdiction. It must be proven first and the issue can be brought up at anytime at any stage. Do not let a judge ever say it is a trial issue. That is a blatant lie and a trick they love to use. The FAA does not have the authority over anyone except by force only. It has always been just opinion backed by force. This is everyone's remedy when needed. . .

As instructed, I registered with the FAA and made payment of the mandatory $5-. After registration, I found myself staring at someone else's profile information (including, Name, Address, Phone Number, Registration #, etc..). I quickly checked the URL and in fact it was at FAA.GOV. I immediately filed a written complaint of the findings and received a note a few days later accepting that there was an issue with the FAA's UMA. Naturally, the FTC has set policy guidelines protecting privacy! I followed up with a few more questions including whether the information was corrected, the email with someone else's name and FAA UMA Number that was emailed to me was in fact corrected. I also asked when the $5- would be returned? Nothing! The FAA admitted there was an issue they remediated, but it appears they are unwilling to disclose any further information their systems may have compromised.

Fortunately, I did use a marketing tracked email that suggests that my email has been forward to various departments in their: Washington DC, Missouri, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Sacramento offices (Not in that order). So it appears the FAA is still working on it.

I just hope that the systems that we're funding through tax dollars, systems that are being built to protect or potentially protect us, are built and QA'd with a level of diligence.

Just posted as a concerned citizen.

Email, Screenshots, and All the disclosures and materials to substantiate claims were sent to: uashelp@faa.gov & AAHotline@faa.gov

People ARE challenging it already. I agree, I wouldn't want to be that individual, but I'm glad he is. Through the DC Area Drone User group we're raising some funds to support his legal case. I would hold off on registering until you don't feel you have any other legal recourse. Legal fund: http://fund.dcdrone.org/about/ Help push back against an illegal over-reach by the FAA. More on the legal analysis of it: http://jrupprechtlaw.com/myrupprecht-laws-analysis-of-the-faas-published...

In case anyone hasn't noticed, the FAA "rule" is illegal. The FAA doesn't make law. If they want to pass laws restricting drones, they need to go through the same legislative process everyone else does. It's amazing how people will just accept anything the government does. I guess if they made a law tomorrow outlawing photography, people would just say "OK." Not me. These guys are thugs, and they have no right to impose any regulations on any drones. They need to keep within their boundaries of large aircraft and aviation on a large scale, and keep their noses out of toy drones and small aircraft. All they're trying to do is see how many lemmings will actually sign up for this thing.

What you claim is very misleading. The FAA has the authority to define what constitutes an aircraft, and has done so. Methinks the lemmings will be the ignorant and uninformed that will be taking a bee line to the slammer.

Wrong. What constitutes aircraft was defined FOR the FAA by the citizens of this country long ago. The FAA itself doesn't have the power to define its own authority. The FAA regulates "aviation" hence the word in their title. More specifically "civil aviation" as well as commercial aviation. Civil aviation includes two major categories: Scheduled air transport, including all passenger and cargo flights operating on regularly scheduled routes; and General aviation (GA), including all other civil flights, private or commercial. Commercial aviation includes most or all flying done for hire, particularly scheduled service on airlines; and Private aviation includes pilots flying for their own purposes (recreation, business meetings, etc.) without receiving any kind of remuneration. Drone aircraft are pilot-less aircraft controlled as hobby craft. Hobby craft such as radio controlled planes that fly no higher than 500 feet have never, and should never be regulated by this overreaching agency - it's out of their scope. How far will it go? Will paper airplanes flown by children in parks and playgrounds be next? Get real, and learn what it is you're talking about before commenting.

What I claim is that I'm unwilling to give up my freedom to an out of control agency like the FAA. I guess if the Feds told you to hang up your camera, you'd say they have the right to do it. I disagree.

"...let someone else do it..." Wow. Your whole article conveys a set of values I can't relate to.

I'm not from the US but will be visiting soon. It says you must be a 'U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident' to register. Do you know what the rules are and how I fly without running into issues?