Registering a Commercial or Hobby Drone with the FAA

If you recently purchased a drone, you’re probably pretty pumped to get it unpackaged and up in the air. But before you rush out the door for that maiden voyage, there’s a little bit of administration work you’ll need to take care of.

As of December 21, 2015, any drone that weighs between 0.55 – 55 pounds needs to be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) before the first outdoor flight. And there’s plenty of incentive to make registration a priority, as the civil and criminal penalties for failing to register include fines that range from $27,500 to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.

The good news is that registering a drone is simple.

But depending on whether you intend to use your drone for recreational or commercial purposes, there are a few differences in the process. We’ll dig into the details of both options below.

Model Aircraft vs. Non-Model Aircraft

If you’re new to the industry, some of the terminology on the FAA’s website might be confusing. Throughout the site, the term “Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS)” is used when referring to what you might colloquially call a drone or quadcopter. To make things trickier, when you’re working through the registration process, you’ll need to choose between registering a Model Aircraft or Non-Model Aircraft.

Here’s how the account types are distinguished during the registration process:
Definitions of model and non-model aircraft.

The descriptions for each registration is straightforward, but to provide some additional context, the FAA describes recreational or hobby drone use as “flying for enjoyment and not for work, business purposes, or for compensation or hire.” If this describes how you intend to use your drone, you should register through the Model Aircraft option. If you plan on using your drone for commercial purposes, for example, taking aerial photos of real estate or surveying a construction site, you’ll want to register through the Non-Model Aircraft option.

Here are some additional details about each type of registration:

Model Aircraft (Recreational Use)
Registration Fee: $5
What you’ll need to provide:

  • Name
  • Phone number
  • Address
  • Email address
  • Payment method (credit/debit card)

When you register for recreational purposes, the same registration number can be used on any drone you own. For example, if you own two quadcopters, you’ll be able to use the same registration number for both drones. Your registration number lasts for three years, after that, you’ll need to re-register and pay the fee again.


Non-Model Aircraft (Commercial Use)

Registration Fee: $5
What you’ll need to provide:

  • Name
  • Phone number
  • Address
  • Email address
  • Payment method (credit/debit card)
  • Organizational Name
  • DBA (Doing Business As)
  • UAS details (Type, Manufacturer, Serial Number, Model)

With Non-Model Aircraft, each UAS needs to be registered individually and marked with a unique registration number. You can manage your drone fleet from a single account, but you’ll need to pay the $5 fee and receive a unique registration number for each UAS. Non-model aircraft registrations are also good for three years. Remember, flying for commercial purposes also requires that you are Part 107 certified.

Labeling Your Drone

With both Model and Non-Model Aircraft, the UAS should be marked with the registration number before the first flight. The label doesn’t need to be anything fancy – you could use a label maker, print the number on a sticker, or even just use a permanent marker. As long as the number is accessible without using any tools, you should be good to go.

Get Started

If you’re ready to register a drone, start by creating an account with the FAA. You can also visit the FAA’s Fly for Fun and Unmanned Aircraft Systems FAQ pages for additional information. And for a step-by-step guide through the registration process, check out our recent support video: