drone registration

Good news that may save $5 for now: FAA drone registration extended for some (check if you’re one of them!)

Good news for some drone pilots that could end up saving you $5. The FAA has extended the drone registration expiration date for some drone pilots through Dec. 12, 2020. To qualify for getting your drone registration extended, you must have:

  • registered as a drone pilot in the FAADroneZone website prior to Dec. 12, 2017
  • NOT requested to have your registration information deleted (which likely would have entailed a refund of your initial registration fees)

If you’re not sure if your drone registration was automatically extended, you can also check for free by visiting the FAA’s Drone Zone website, and clicking on the tab called “Recreational Flyer Dashboard.” That tab should take you to a page indicating when you initially registered, and when your registration date next expires. It looks like this:

You can also use this website to lookup lost or forgotten drone registration numbers. Registration typically is valid for 3 years.

The complicated, back-and-forth history of FAA drone registration requirements

December 2015: The FAA’s drone registration program was instituted in December 2015, and required drone owners to register through an FAA website for a $5 fee. Drone pilots were then issued a unique identification number, which they were required to mark on their drones (there was one number per pilot, which could be used across multiple drones, if applicable).

But the FAA’s drone registration rules frequently evolved due to lawsuits — often to the confusion of drone pilots.

January 2016: Within a month of the drone registration program launching, nearly 300,000 drone owners had registered their flying robots. But then came a roadblock.

May 2017: In May 2017, the drone registration requirement was struck down in an appeals court, with judges upholding the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act which stated that the FAA “may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft.”

During that time period, hobby drone pilots could delete their registration and receive a refund of their registration fee, by filling out and mailing a registration deletion and self-certification form to the FAA. Though, the FAA still encouraged “voluntary registration.”

December 2017: And just months later, registration was no longer voluntary. The registration requirement was reinstated in December 2017 via the National Defense Authorization Act.

The ever changing rules, coupled with the new industry of scam drone registration websites, created headaches particularly for casual hobbyists who might have considered buying a drone, but were turned off by complicated rules and the fear of accidentally breaking the law.

January 2018: But drone registration still grew strong. By January 2018, the total number of drones registered with the FAA topped the milestone 1 million mark.

Why was my drone registration extended?

If you registered prior to Dec. 12, 2017, and did not request to have your registration information deleted in the period between May and December 2017, the FAA extended the expiration date until Dec. 12, 2020, which would be three years from the rule restoration date.

But if you requested a refund of registration fees, you would have had to re-register again after Dec. 12, 2017 (for those folks, your expiration date would now also be Dec. 12, 2020, or later, based on when you registered).

If you were affected, the FAA said that extended registration expiration date were automatically updated, so you don’t need to take any action now.

But, expect a registration renewal email notification. The FAA said it will send out emails reminding you to renew 180 days prior to your registration expiration date, which means a good chunk of long-time drone pilots should check their inboxes for an FAA message around June. You’ll likely be able to renew your registration long before December 2020.

“When your registration renewal is available, your FAADroneZone dashboard will include an option to ‘Renew,’ according to a memo from the FAA. That memo added that “yu cannot renew earlier than 180 days prior to the registration expiration date,” indicating that there will be the possibility of renewing any time in that 6-month span.

What do I do with my drone registration number?

Drone registration numbers are legally required to be marked somewhere on the outside of the aircraft. Whether you post it on the propeller, the body, the legs — it doesn’t matter. And whether you use Sharpie or glitter glue also doesn’t matter. The FAA has no specific rules around how numbers are marked, where they’re affixed or how large they need to be, beyond that the number must “be seen upon visual inspection of the aircraft’s exterior.”

All drones that weigh more than 0.55 pounds are required to be registered through the FAA. If your drone weighs less than that (say, you’ve got a DJI Mavic Mini), then it only needs to be registered if you’re using it for commercial purposes (ie. under Part 107).

How much does drone registration cost?

Like Costco hot dogs, drone registration seems to be inflation-immune. The drone registration fee was $5 when the program launched, and it’s still $5. The renewal fee is also $5.

One interesting note for long-time drone pilots: To encourage people to register after launching its drone registration system back in Dec. 2015, the FAA waived the process fee for the first 30 days. That means pilots who registered before Jan. 15, 2015 have gone this whole time without paying a dollar to register as a drone pilot with the FAA. That changes Dec. 12, 2020, when the $5 renewal fee will kick in.

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