US FAA sUAS RegistrationI'm going to speak in "general" terms as much as I can and hope to help shed some light on a strangely confusing topic.
It seems like there is a LOT of misinformation about what is required in terms of registration in the US. For this thread we are ONLY talking about Federal/FAA registration as some states and even local entities can and do require "additional" registration/permitting. Keep in mind this is in ADDITION to what the FAA requires not in lieu of the FAA registration.
If you are the proud owner of a new sUAS and it weighs between 0.55lb and 55lb it must be "Registered" through the FAA before the first flight. This goes for Hobby or Commercial operations. The FAA has sent an "information memo" to all Law Enforcement across our great land with details on what to look for and how to proceed with investigating the sUAS registration. Don't think your local Law Enforcement doesn't know about FAA sUAS registration because they DO and they are likely to ask to see yours if they come on scene where you're flying or attempting to fly. You MUST show them if asked and by all means please be respectful.
Hobby vs Commercial:
Where/How - Although they have different details they are obtained via the same web portal (a paper option is available but I highly suggest the web portal). Be careful though... there are a couple of companies capitalizing off of the unknown and their rush to register their sUAS. They are doing this "as a service" and charging you 500% more than it actually costs. FAA sUAS registration costs only $5 and it's good for THREE years so don't fall for the gimmick websites (they will pop up at the TOP of google searches). Here's a direct link to the FAA Registration website:
Welcome to the Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) Registration Service
This site will allow you to register your small UAS with the FAA and update your registration.
To register you have to be at least 13 years of age. If younger an adult will have to register on your behalf (honestly I'd like to see this be 16 but they didn't consult with me LOL).
Once you're logged in you'll answer the questions but you need to decide up front which registration you want to use as there are some differences.
What type of Registration?
Hobby - The aircraft is only used for recreational/hobby use. The operator is registered and issued an FAA #. The same FAA# is used on all sUAS aircraft that you operate strictly for HOBBY purposes. Whether you have 1 sUAS or 101 sUAS, if they are hobby use only they have the same FAA# (which is tied to you the operator only). This really freaks people out when they think they are registering themselves with the Federal Government. Under Hobby registration, you are still registering your sUA…it’s just that you are getting one registration number (issued to you) for all the sUA you will be flying as a hobbyist.
Commercial - If you use your sUAS in any commercial capacity (regardless if money actually changes hands or not) it MUST be registered COMMERCIALLY with the FAA. In this instance the aircraft itself (serial # etc specific) is registered and has a unique FAA registration #. If you have 5 commercial aircraft each of them will have a different FAA registration #.
What if I fly the same aircraft for hobby and commercial?
If the aircraft is flown in ANY commercial capacity if must be registered Commercially. A Commercial aircraft can be flown recreationally but a hobby aircraft can NOT be flown commercially until it has Commercial Registration. So if you fly the same aircraft for both purposes it must be Commercially registered.
The FAA Registration # must be physically on/in the aircraft at all times. There is not a size requirement but IMHO it's better to have the # as large and prominent as is possible. The FAA Registration # can even be inside the aircraft but it has to be easily accessible with standard tools (not a special wrench etc). An instance where this is acceptable would be inside a battery compartment etc.
I've registered as a hobbyist but now need/want to fly my aircraft as a Commercial sUAS. What do I do?
It's very simple. Whichever aircraft you want to deem as Commercial you simply go to the web portal linked above and follow the directions to register that aircraft as a Commercial Aircraft ($5). Once your Commercial Registration # has been issued you remove the hobby# and replace it with the commercial #. You can only have ONE FAA Registration # on the aircraft.
What if I am flying for hobby and a commercial opportunity arises?
For those who fly commercially and hobby with the same aircraft: The "purpose/scope" of the flight must be established before take-off. You take off using one set of rules or the other and the flight must be completed under the specific set of rules/regulations you launched under. You can not change/mix once the aircraft is in the air.
Below are some key points of interest about the above write-up:
- sUAS registered before first flight
- Must be at least 13 years old
- more than 0.55lb but less than 55lbs
- Cost $5
- Good for 3 years
- Must chose either Hobby or Commercial
- Hobby Registration is registering the operator NOT the aircraft
- Hobby Registration # is the same for all HOBBY aircraft you own and operate
- Commercial Registration is registering the AIRCRAFT
- Commercial Registration # is specific to a single aircraft
- Commercially Registered aircraft can fly for hobby or commercial
- Hobby aircraft can NOT fly commercial operations
- Only (1) FAA registration # can be on the aircraft
- The "purpose/scope" of the flight must be established before take-off and the flight must be completed under the specific set of rules/regulations for that type of flight.
I hope this helps remove some of the "mystery" surrounding FAA's sUAS registration in the United States.
* As a side note... I've ran this by our sUAS specialist at the FAA to make sure it's accurate and consistent with the FAA's stance on this topic. I made one addition/clarification which is listed in red italics under the Hobby registration section.