As Drones Take Off, FAA Hovers with New Regulations and Registration

Drones Come with Rules

With an estimated 400,000 recreational drones expected to be purchased this holiday season, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has swooped in with both interim regulations and mandatory registration rules.

register-droneStarting today, the FAA requires registration of any remote, aerial vehicle that weighs between 0.55 and 55 pounds (pretty much any recreational drone bigger than a mini toy). For $5, the registration will last 3 years and save you potential fines of up to $27,500 in civil penalties. And, yes, this includes already-owned drones, which must be registered by February 19, 2016. Those purchased after December 21 should be reported to Uncle Sam before their first outdoor flight.

According to the Consumer Electronics Association, 700,000 drones are estimated to be purchased by the end of 2015. With it, the FAA is preempting the drone rush with both the registration and recent regulation requirements.

“Drones are going to become more commonplace because people have such a great interest in them. Even now, you can go to Piedmont Park and see 15-20 operating quadcopters on any given Saturday,” said John Fry, a partner in the Technology and Intellectual Property Litigation Practice and co-founder of the Drone/UAV Practice in the Atlanta-based law firm, Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP. “The next step will be to see how startup companies solve safety and technology challenges. The biggest ones being the line of sight issue and navigating in urban settings.”

The recent FAA regulations require that drones be flown away from aircraft and airports, only within line of sight, and no more than 400 feet in the air. The guidelines were put forth at the end of November 2015 by an FAA task force comprised of 25 experts, including representatives from drone manufacturers, technology companies, airline pilots associations, and government officials. (Read Fry’s report on the full guidelines here.)

The skyrocketing popularity of drones is the result of improvements in technology and greater interest in aerial photography and filmmaking. Yet, the increased adoption of recreational drones has also led to concerns about privacy and safety. (Just last May, an amateur drone pilot was arrested after flying too close to the White House.)

“The biggest thing of concern over recreational drones has revolved around safety, particularly near airports. Pilots are seeing them in close proximity, and the FAA sees its charter as the safety of the national airspace,” said Fry. “Kids are flying more advanced UAVs than have been on the market before. There is an issue in terms of control over the sheer number expected to be purchased in the upcoming months and year.”

Want to learn more about recreational drone registration and regulations (before Timmy launches his new toy into trouble)? Check out the Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) Registration Service at