Around this time last year I ran a column talking about the federal government regulations on drones. Tracking of online sales of technology indicates that this year was another big year for drone sales. I am guessing that some readers likely either received or bought a drone for Christmas so I wanted to mention the new regulations on operating a drone.
First, there is a requirement to register your drone with the Federal Aeronautics Administration (FAA). If the drone weighs between 0.55 and 55 lbs., it can be registered online; over 55 lbs. will require paper form registration. Failure to register a drone can result in $250,000 in fines and up to three years in prison. This requirement stands for both commercial and private use.
If you are just flying the drone on your own property as a hobby, you still have to register the drone. However, if you plan to fly the drone to film events at your church, school, or place of business, even as an individual, the rules change. This is considered a commercial use of the drone and requires a separate registration under FAA Part 107 rules.
You must also be at least 13-years old to legally register a drone. You can fly one at a younger age, but the registered owner is responsible for any damage or rule violations. You can use a single registration for multiple drones provided you own them all and store them at the same physical address. You will receive a unique-to-you registration number with which you must label the drone prior to the first outdoor flight.
You can do the registration online in two different ways – directly with the FAA at https://www.faa.gov/uas/registration/ for a $5 fee where you only receive a registration certificate, or at https://www.federaldroneregistration.com for $24.99 where you receive a packet of labels/stickers for your drone and automatic renewal options for the registration, as well as other additional services.
The Part 107 provisions require pilot training and certification before operating the drone. You must be 16-years-old to become an official remote pilot. The certification consists of a written exam called the initial aeronautical knowledge test, which is only offered in certified testing facilities and covers various topics related to general FAA knowledge. The nearest test facility is at State Technical College of Missouri in Linn. Once you have completed this exam successfully, you will receive a 17-digit Knowledge Test Exam ID. This ID is then used to register with the FAA using the Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application System (IACRA). You will now be recognized as an official remote pilot.
As a professional photographer, if I were to purchase a large drone, I would go through the pilot registration process. It costs a little more but gives you the flexibility to use the drone for things like a DIY aerial photography business. It also allows you to fly your drone in more places. There are places you are allowed to fly a commercial drone that you cannot fly a private drone.
If you were one of the lucky recipients of a drone this year, please follow the rules and enjoy your new hobby or business. Fly safe.