The FAA now requires registration and labeling of all outdoor drones (unmanned aircraft systems or UAS) by February 19, 2016. According to the FAA UAS Website, electronic registration is available for hobbyists, as defined by law, fro drones weighing less than 55 lbs. and paper registration must be used for all other drone registrations including commercial uses. Registrations for hobbyists using the electronic system last for three years and cost a nominal $5.00.
Registered drones must be labeled with the registration number to facilitate easy identification of the aircraft. As the labeling instructions show, the UAS/drone must be marked by
- a permanently affixed label, or
- by permanent marker.
The registration number must be visible (although, labeling in the the battery compartment is apparently permitted if, and only if, the battery is accessible without a tool.)
The long over-due registrations arose due to numerous complaints and dangerous incidents—many where tracing the offending operator is difficult or impossible due to the lack of registrations. On December 11, 2015, the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College released a disturbing report showing 921 drone incidents from December 2013 to September 2015. An astounding 327 of those drone incidents presented “some level of hazard” to manned aircraft and 594 other cases where drones were spotted “near or within” aircraft flight paths. According to the BBC, an 18 month-old child in the UK recently lost an eye to a drone.
The renewed effort by the FAA to hold drone operators responsible appears reasonable and proportionate considering the known dangers. I have publicly called for such measures since at least February 22, 2014, due to the clear danger and need for accountability (when a drone takes down a passenger aircraft or your child loses an eye, who will pay for the losses?). The FAA has now implemented many of those suggestions including the much-needed No Drone Zone. The FAA provides a helpful FAQ for reliable information on drone (UAS) use.
Non-hobbyist uses, such as commercial and government use, still require additional approvals prior to operation of the drone. Note that the FAA alone defines model aircraft, hobbyist, and recreational uses. According to the FAA, other uses require special permission and possibly a pilot certificate.