Drone Registration Requirement is Broader than Many Drone Owners Believe

March-17-16 by Adam Kuenning

Near the end of December 2015, The Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") approved a rule requiring drone (a/k/a unmanned aircraft systems ["UAS"] or unmanned aerial vehicles ["UAV"]) owners to registered theirs drones. However, many drone owners do not think of themselves as 'pilots' or their small drone as an 'aircraft' subject to federal registration.

Regardless what drone operators think, the FAA has made clear that every unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds and more than .55 pounds upon takeoff must be federally registered. This may cause alarm for many parents who purchased a small drone for children around the 2015 holidays. Under a strict reading of the regulation, which is the reading frequently encouraged by the FAA, many of those 'toy' drones flown around the yard by children are required to be registered.

The FAA's abrupt demand for drone registration came as a direct result of increasing "unmanned aircraft reports" involving "unauthorized and potentially unsafe [drone] operations." 80 Fed. Reg. 241, 78597 (Dec. 16, 2015). Examples include a situation where aerial firefighting operations had to be ceased in California due to unauthorized drone operations and a disruption to electrical power to 640 customers when a drone impacted powerlines.

Until this regulation, a distinction was drawn between drone usage for commercial purposes, which required drone registration, and hobby or recreational activities, which did not. Under the new regulations, the primary factor is the weight of the drone.

As drones are now subject to aircraft registration, the FAA has significant power to enforce these requirements. Failure to register an aircraft, which now includes drones, may result in civil penalties up to $27,000, criminal penalties up to $25,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.

For assistance registering your drone or for more information on current developments in drone legislation, responsibilities and duties of pilots and aerospace businesses, FAA and NTSB investigations, and other matters relating to Aviation & Transportation, please contact Adam B. Kuenning or Tiernan T. Siems with Erickson | Sederstrom.