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Opinion: Must drones get registered for hobby use?

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Christmas is over and you are looking at your new recreational drone. Now, how do you get started? Don’t just take it outside and fly it like you flew your model airplanes when you were young. You may need to register your drone before you use it. The Federal Aviation Administration issued rules on Dec. 21 stating how drones, aka unmanned aircraft systems, must be registered.

The FAA provides a website to register drones used for hobbies. You need not register a drone if it weighs less than 0.55 pounds, which is equal to about two sticks of butter. You must register it if the drone weighs more and may register it on the website if it weighs more than 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds.

Other registration questions to consider: Will you operate your drone outdoors? Is your drone homemade? Did you purchase one before Dec. 21? You must register in all those situations. You must be a U.S. citizen and at least 13 years of age to register.There are other fine-print details.

If you purchased your drone before Dec. 21, you have until Feb. 19 to register. If you purchased your drone after the 21st, you must register before operating it.

You can start your registration with your purchase information and a credit card and logging onto the website at Registration is free if you register by Jan. 19, but technically the FAA will bill you $5 and then rebate your credit card. The registration deadline is Feb. 19. You must register a drone before operating it. One registration can apply to several drones. You can own as many drones as you wish. If you received the drone as a gift, you must register it if the person who gave it did not register it.

Once you are registered, the FAA will send you a certificate with a unique registration number, the issue and expiration dates. You also can download your certificate. You must place the registration number on the drone by permanent marker or label, and it must be legible. You must have the paper certificate or its electronic equivalent with you when you operate the drone, much like a driver’s license while driving. Certificates last three years and renewals currently cost $5. If you loan your drone to someone, that person must have either the paper or electronic certificate while operating.

Registration may seem tedious, but it serves important purposes.

The Washington Post recently reported there were 1,000 near accidents between drones and aircraft – some of those commercial airliners – in 2015. This does not include accidents or near accidents between drones and other objects or property. If an accident with a drone happened, it is vital investigators have full information about ownership and operation of the drone. Registration also gives the FAA opportunities to update safety training to drone operators.

If public interest does not persuade you to register, your checkbook will. The maximum civil penalty for failing to register is $27,500. The maximum criminal penalty for failing to register is $250,000 and/or three years of imprisonment.

Many business owners are discovering drones can be useful. If you are a farmer, utility services contractor, real estate agent, subdivision developer or government watchdog, chances are good some of your competition already operates drones.

Drones used for business purposes must be registered with the FAA using the existing paper system. This also applies to drones weighing more than 55 pounds. This process usually takes 60 to 90 days. Want more information? See the FAA’s frequently asked questions page at That page will link you to a Recreational UAS Weights document. It is a very useful document telling you what drones likely need not be registered.

So, get legal and have fun.

Patrick Platter is a partner with the law firm of Neale & Newman LLP of Springfield. He can be reached at


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