Jonathan Rupprecht

Mr. Rupprecht is an aviation attorney who focuses on drones. Read more about his background as a commercial pilot, flight instructor, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University grad, and legal author. He has had media appearances on Forbes, Newsweek, Politico, NPR, Marketwatch, The Independent, Motherboard, and other sources. Feel free to send Jonathan a message here.

11 Big Problems with the FAA’s Mandatory Drone Registration

 NOTE: The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on the drone registration requirements. See my page on the Taylor v. FAA case for the ruling. 


  • The DOT’s Announcement Can Be Viewed Here.
  • The FAA’s request for comments is here.
  • The underlying FAA report of drone sightings is located here.
  • The Academy of Model Aeronautics responded to the report with an analysis located here.

Second Update: An individual took the time and responded to this post. I posted my reply at the bottom.


Update: Just to clarify, my point is not to “troll” the FAA, I think geofencing will produce far better results by preventing problems as opposed to pointing to who might have done it after something has happened. The uneducated new recreational flyers are the ones I believe causing the problems. Having manufacturers voluntarily “lock” the drones until an unlock access code is provided after an introductory ground school would produce better results. One way to sweeten the pot is not just provide “how to fly safely” video tutorials but also “how to get that awesome shot” tutorials. Education, not enforcement is a better strategy. If anyone higher-up in the FAA is reading this, please contact me so I can help you promote safety in the national airspace. :)


Note: The FAA DID publish their drone registration regulations. I wrote an in-depth article on Why the FAA’s Drone Registration Requirements Are ILLEGAL


Oklahoma City is where aircraft registration gets processed. The aircraft registration process still involves carbon copy forms, which must be filled out perfectly and sent in for an aircraft to be registered. They are extremely, I mean extremely, picky on registration based upon my experience. (If you need help with registration, contact me.) If the paperwork is completed correctly, they will send you back an “N” registration which is required to be displayed on the aircraft. The reason for the “N” is the aircraft is tied to the country it operates in. (Think of license plates where the state is listed on the plate.) N = United States, C or CF = Canada, XA, XB, or XC = Mexico, B= China, JA= Japan, SU= Egypt, etc. The complete list is here at 4-1-1.  So N12345 is a U.S. registered aircraft while XA12345 is a Mexican registered aircraft.


Current Registration Requirements for Drones:

Commercial drone operators are required to obtain a 333 exemption or fly under Part 107. The exemptions being given out say, “All aircraft operated in accordance with this exemption must be identified by serial number, registered in accordance with 14 CFR part 47, and have identification (N−Number) markings in accordance with 14 CFR part 45, Subpart C. Markings must be as large as practicable.” This is in addition to the manned aircraft which are registering with the FAA.  This is currently ONLY for commercial drones while recreational drones are not required to register their drones.


Proposed Registration:

“The Department of Transportation is reviewing whether the FAA has the authority to require drones be registered at their point of sale, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told CBS News on Friday.”[1]


Furthermore, Senator Feinstein’ s “Consumer Drone Safety Act’’ requires “that a consumer drone be detectable and identifiable to pilots and air traffic controllers, including through the use of an identification number and a transponder or similar technology to convey the drone’s location and altitude[.]”[2]


Moreover, Cory Booker’s Commercial UAS Modernization Act prohibits the operations of commercial small unmanned aircraft “unless the owner has registered the aircraft under section 3(a) of the Commercial UAS Modernization Act.”[3]


In the FAA’s explanations in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) regarding unmanned aircraft it said, “The FAA’s statute, [49 U.S.C. 44101], prohibits the operation of an aircraft unless the aircraft is registered. Pursuant to this statutory prohibition, this proposed rule would require small unmanned aircraft to be registered with the FAA using the current registration process found in 14 CFR part 47.” The NPRM later showed the proposed rule, “No person may operate a civil small unmanned aircraft system for purposes of flight unless[,] . . . [t]he small unmanned aircraft being operated has been registered with the FAA . . . .”[4]


Just today NBC announced, “The federal government will announce a new plan requiring anyone buying a drone to register the device with the U.S. Department of Transportation[.]”[5] Just FYI, the DOT supervises the FAA which explains why they are involved.


The clear trajectory of all this is that commercial drone aircraft will be required to be registered and possibly also recreational aircraft. This presents interesting problems so let’s dive into the facts.

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Bloomberg indicated that “Amazon is selling more than 10,000 drones a month[.]”[6] 3DR “is expected to top $40 million in sales in 2015, which would roughly translate to about 53,000 units”[7] and in 2014, “DJI sold about 400,000 units–many of which were its signature Phantom model–and is on track to do more than $1 billion in sales this year, up from $500 million in 2014.”[8]


On top of the drone sales, manned aircraft have been sold and already use some of the N numbers. For 2012, it was estimated that there were 209,034 aircraft in general aviation.[9]


The Proposed Laws and Regulations Intersecting with the Forecasted Sales.

Let’s get into the math. Let’s assume that all drones have to be registered. How many different combinations are possible?


“All U.S. civil aircraft registration numbers are prefixed by an N. The registration number, apart from the N prefix, is made up of one to five symbols, the last two of which may be alphabetical. This alphabetical suffix must be preceded by at least one numerical symbol. The lowest possible number is N1. A zero never precedes the first number. For example: N1 through N99999, all symbols are numeric. N1A through N9999Z, single alphabetical suffix. N1AA through N999ZZ, double alphabetical suffix. Note: To avoid confusion with the numbers zero and one, the letters O and I are never used as alphabetical suffixes.”[10]


This is how the math works out. Yes, I had to go to my friend who is an actuary to help with this. :) Here is what he said:

For 1 symbol: 1 through 9 can be used so= 9
For 2 symbols: (1 thru 9) and (digits 0-9 and 24 letters)= 9×34=306

For registration numbers of length three or more we have to break it into cases:
Case I: The next-to-last symbols is a NUMBER
Case II: The next-to last symbol is a LETTER
And we remember the rule that a letter can not precede a number.

For 3 symbols:
Case I: (1 thru 9) and (digits 0-9) and (digits 0-9 and 24 letters)= 9x10x34=3060
Case II: (1 thru 9) and (24 Letters) and (24 letters)= 9x24x24=5184

For registration numbers of length 4 or 5 we remember that only the last two symbols can be letters

For 4 symbols:
Case I: (1 thru 9) and (digits 0-9) and (digits 0-9) and (digits 0-9 and 24 letters)= 9x10x10x34= 30600
Case II: (1 thru 9) and (digits 0-9) and (24 Letters) and (24 letters)= 9x10x24x24=51840

For 5 symbols:
Case I: (1 thru 9) and (digits 0-9) and (digits 0-9) and (digits 0-9) and (digits 0-9 and 24 letters)= 9x10x10x10x34 = 306000
Case II: (1 thru 9) and (digits 0-9) and (digits 0-9) and (24 Letters) and (24 letters)= 9x10x10x24x24= 518400


Adding up all possibilities gives 915,399 total possible registration numbers.


The reason for the 34 is 10 numbers + 25 letters. The letters I and O cannot be used because they can be confused with the numbers 1 and 0.


Further compounding this problem is “A Certificate of Aircraft Registration issued under this paragraph expires three years after the last day of the month in which it is issued.” 14 CFR 47.40(a)(3).


Moreover, it is easier to register a drone than transfer registration. If you crash the drone, you’ll have crazy headaches trying to transfer registration of the N-number to the new drone as opposed to just registering a new N number.


At this pace, we are going to run out of N numbers in the future.

Proposed Solutions

  • Open up the first 3 spaces to allow also the use of letters. (The FAA must go through the rule making process for this but it is unclear how this would work with the FMRA).
  • Require re-registration of a drone every year. (Currently it is every 3 years as per regulation. This needs to be changed via the rule making process but still the FMRA might cause problems.)
  • Make the N number registration transfer easy so people just don’t keep registering drones. (This can be solved by some type of internet portal as opposed to the difficult paper process now.
  • Add an additional 6th space or 7th (still must go through the rule making process)


Jonathan Rupprecht

Mr. Rupprecht is an aviation attorney who focuses on drones. Read more about his background as a commercial pilot, flight instructor, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University grad, and legal author. He has had media appearances on Forbes, Newsweek, Politico, NPR, Marketwatch, The Independent, Motherboard, and other sources. Feel free to send Jonathan a message here.

FAA Issued Important Clarification on Registering Commercial and Recreational Drones


faa-section-333-exemption-updated(March 22, 2016) Many of us have multiple drones and typically have one or two birds we typically fly. Good news is you do NOT need to register your recreational or commercial drones if they are being operated only indoors OR they are not being operated at all. This means you can save $5 and not register your Phantom 2 vision sitting in the back of your attic, closet, or garage. Remember recreational drone operators get one registration they apply to all their drones while commercial operators register each drone.

The FAA explained this in a recent letter dated March 2, “A small unmanned aircraft owner need only register aircraft operated in the national airspace system (NAS). See 14 C.F.R. §§ 47.3(b) and 48.15. Thus, you need not immediately register those small unmanned aircraft that you do not anticipate flying for two to three years. As long as you complete the registration process provided by either, 14 C.F.R. part 47 or 14 C.F.R. part 48 prior to operation of your small unmanned aircraft in the NAS, you will be in compliance with aircraft registration requirements. See 14 C.F.R. §§ 47.3(b), 48.5(a) and 48.15.”

Keep in mind that if you are going to register at some point in the future, you should consider going the Part 47 paper based method as the Part 48 registration process is currently being challenged by John Taylor in a lawsuit in the D.C Circuit Court of Appeals. (I’m helping him).  There is a good chance the drone registration regulations will be struck down as violating the Administrative Procedures Act and Section 336. A more detailed analysis is here. Save yourself the potential headache of re-registering your drone under Part 47 if the Part 48 registry is struck down as invalid and just register via Part 47.

Jonathan Rupprecht

Mr. Rupprecht is an aviation attorney who focuses on drones. Read more about his background as a commercial pilot, flight instructor, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University grad, and legal author. He has had media appearances on Forbes, Newsweek, Politico, NPR, Marketwatch, The Independent, Motherboard, and other sources. Feel free to send Jonathan a message here.

Three Recent Changes to 333 Exemption Amendments


The FAA started posting amendments on 3/7/2016 which are different from what the FAA has been previously doing. In the past, the FAA was granting amendments to petitions to add aircraft or to add on closed-set TV/movie filming. This created a super backlog because many of the petitioners were repeats. The granted amendments specifically incorporate by referencing a large list (“List of Approved Unmanned Aerial Systems”) of aircraft that have been approved in other exemptions.  There is a total of 1120 aircraft in the list. Some drones you would expect to be in there are NOT (Inspire 1 Pro & Phantom 4), while other drones you would NOT expect to be in there are listed (Inspire 2).

What does this mean for businesses with a petition pending?

This is great news for individuals with pending petitions because this means the processing times will start to DECREASE.

What does this mean for those who already have exemptions?

Unfortunately, the amendments are being given out ONLY for those that asked for the amendments, and it is not being retroactively applied to everyone. This means you will have to petition for amendment to add this exemption. This will cause a temporary surge in amendments while at the same time cleaning out the petitions for amendment already pending.

The amendment also clarified how operators are to log their flight time. It says, “PIC qualification flight hours and currency may be logged in a manner consistent with 14 CFR § 61.51(b), however UAS pilots must not log this time in the same columns or categories as time accrued during manned flight. UAS flight time must not be recorded as part of total time.” This means it is wise to keep a separate logbook for your drone flight time. Fortunately, there is a drone logbook that I created that is COA, 333, and FAR compliant to help drone operators meet this need.

Another interesting note is that it will allow drone operators to fly with drones registered via the Part 48 online registration process. Currently, the FAA is planning on opening up this process to commercial operators on March 31st.  Keep in mind that the Taylor v. FAA lawsuits are challenging the FAA on their drone registration regulations (I’m working on those cases), and there are good grounds that the Part 48 registration regulations could be held to be invalid because the FAA didn’t create the regulations according to how Congress told them to. In other words, you are going to have to register AGAIN if the court throws out Part 48. Save yourself the potential pain of reregistering and go the Part 47 paper based registration route until that case gets settled.

There are other changes but I wanted to give everyone a quick update on these three points since these are immediately applicable. If you already have a 333 and are interested in trying to get your exemption quickly amended for this “Blanket” aircraft amendment or do the Part 47 paper-based registration, please don’t hesitate to reach out to contact me.

Jonathan Rupprecht

Mr. Rupprecht is an aviation attorney who focuses on drones. Read more about his background as a commercial pilot, flight instructor, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University grad, and legal author. He has had media appearances on Forbes, Newsweek, Politico, NPR, Marketwatch, The Independent, Motherboard, and other sources. Feel free to send Jonathan a message here.

The Drone Registration Committee Turned in Their Recommendations to the FAA. Now What?

I’m not going to cover the legal issues with drone registration that I made in the previous blog post. I will only briefly discuss (1) the recommendations, (2) a few potential problems with the recommendations, and (3) what happens next in the rulemaking process.

The aviation rule making committee’s recommendations on drone registration can be viewed here.

(1) Summary of the Recommendations.

UAS Registration Task Force Aviation Rulemaking Committee Recommendations Summary
What category of UAS is covered by the registration requirement?UAS that weigh under 55 pounds and above 250 grams maximum takeoff weight, and are operated outdoors in the NAS.
Do owners need to register each individual UAS they own?No. The registration system is owner-based, so each registrant will have a single registration number that covers any and all UAS that the registrant owns.
Is registration required at point-of-sale?No. Registration is mandatory prior to operation of a UAS in the NAS.
What information is required for the registration process?Name and street address of the registrant are required.

Mailing address, email address, telephone number, and serial number of the aircraft are optional.

Is there a citizenship requirement?No.
Is there a minimum age requirement?Yes. Persons must be 13 years of age to register.
Is there a registration fee?No.
Is the registration system electronic or web-based?The system for entry of information into the database is web-based and also allows for multiple entry points, powered by an API that will enable custom apps to provide registry information to the database and receive registration numbers and certificates back from the database. Registrants can also modify their information through the web or apps.
How does a UAS owner prove registration?A certificate of registration will be sent to the registrant at the time of registration. The certificate will be sent electronically, unless a paper copy is requested, or unless the traditional aircraft registration process is utilized. The registration certificate will contain the registrant’s name, FAA-issued registration number, and the FAA registration website that can be used by authorized users to confirm registration information. For registrants who elect to provide the serial number(s) of their aircraft to the FAA, the certificate will also contain those serial number(s). Any time a registered UAS is in operation, the operator of that UAS should be prepared to produce the certificate of registration for inspection
Does the registration number have to be affixed to the aircraft?Yes, unless the registrant chooses to provide the FAA with the aircraft’s serial number. Whether the owner chooses to rely on the serial number or affix the FAA-issued registration number to the aircraft, the marking must be readily accessible and maintained in a condition that is readable and legible upon close visual inspection. Markings enclosed in a compartment, such as a battery compartment, will be considered “readily accessible” if they can be accessed without the use of tools.

(2) Potential Problems.

Inability for Non-Government Parties to Check.

If registration data is hidden from the public, then how does one check on the recreational individual to make sure they are compliant? It seems that only law enforcement will have access to this database to protect people’s privacy. Local AMA fields won’t have a way to validate compliance.

Validation of the Name and Address.

How does the FAA validate the name and address submitted? If the data that is put in is bad, then the data coming out will be bad. An individual could just put in a false name or address and no one could check unless they went to his address or somehow obtained his driver’s license. Remember that the whole point of registration is to track down the negligent or bad individuals who use a drone. Bad individuals most certainly won’t provide a name and address, unless they were on a one-way mission like the Paris attack. Law enforcement would just run the check and find the false name and false address in the database to match the false name and false registration on the registration paperwork. The FAA will have to go one step further and require that the drone operator be required to (1) possess a valid form of government ID and (2) present it to law enforcement upon request. This will make things harder because the individual will then have to assume an identity and obtain a fake ID, unless he is going on a one-way mission. Remember that Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 that I talked about in the previous blog post prevents the creation of new regulations affecting model aircraft but does not prevent the FAA from using already existing regulations. 14 CFR 61.3(a) says:

(a) Required pilot certificate for operating a civil aircraft of the United States. No person may serve as a required pilot flight crewmember of a civil aircraft of the United States, unless that person: . . .

 (2) Has a photo identification that is in that person’s physical possession or readily accessible in the aircraft when exercising the privileges of that pilot certificate or authorization. The photo identification must be a:

(i) Driver’s license issued by a State, the District of Columbia, or territory or possession of the United States;

(ii) Government identification card issued by the Federal government, a State, the District of Columbia, or a territory or possession of the United States;

(iii) U.S. Armed Forces’ identification card;

(iv) Official passport . . . .

(l)Inspection of certificate. Each person who holds an airman certificate, medical certificate, authorization, or license required by this part must present it and their photo identification as described in paragraph (a)(2) of this section for inspection upon a request from:

(1) The Administrator;

(2) An authorized representative of the National Transportation Safety Board;

(3) Any Federal, State, or local law enforcement officer; or

(4) An authorized representative of the Transportation Security Administration.

The problem with trying to apply this section to recreational flyers is that 61.3(a) applies to individuals with a “pilot certificate” and 61.3(l) applies to individuals who hold an “airman certificate, medical certificate, authorization, or license[.]”

Updating Address. What happens when you move? How many days do you have before you must update your address in the system?

14 CFR 61.60 says, “The holder of a pilot, flight instructor, or ground instructor certificate who has made a change in permanent mailing address may not, after 30 days from that date, exercise the privileges of the certificate unless the holder has notified in writing the FAA, Airman Certification Branch, P.O. Box 25082, Oklahoma City, OK 73125, of the new permanent mailing address, or if the permanent mailing address includes a post office box number, then the holder’s current residential address.

Once again, this regulation applies to individuals with pilot certificates.

(3) So What Happens Now in the Rule making Process?

Here are two graphical depictions of the FAA’s internal and external rule making process. There are many little steps in the external rule making process that are not covered for brevity’s sake. The red arrow stands for where the registration regulations are and the blue arrow depicts where the commercial drone regulations are.

internal rulemaking process

external rulemaking process

As you can see, we have a long way to go before any drone registration regulations can come out. To give you an idea of how long the rulemaking process takes, the rulemaking process for the commercial drone regulations (Red Arrow) were started in 2009 and the proposed regulations were only published in February of this year. I estimate that the proposed commercial drone regulations (Red Arrow) will not become final for 1-3 years from now. As of today, I checked the DOT’s significant rulemaking report for November and the proposed commercial drone regulations have not even left the FAA to the DOT.

Regarding the registration regulations (Blue Arrow), I don’t have enough information to guestimate but here is a quote from my upcoming book which will discuss the FAA rulemaking process, “In 2001, before the U.S. House of Representatives Sub-Committee on Aviation, Dr. Dillingham testified on the FAA’s rulemaking efforts in response to congressional mandates or NTSB recommendations between fiscal year 1995 and fiscal year 2000.   He said that after the FAA published an NPRM, the ‘FAA took a median time of approximately 2-½ years to complete the rulemaking, although 20 percent of the rules took 10 years or longer to complete.’”[1]

Hopefully, this clears up any questions you have regarding when this regulation is expected to come out. It does not look like the registration regulations will be cleared for take-off prior to Christmas.

[1] U.S. Gov’t Accountability Office, GAO-01-950T, Incomplete Implementation Impaired FAA’s Reform Efforts 1, 3 (2001).