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: John Taylor was successful in his lawsuit. The court struck down the regulations as being illegal; however, on December 12, 2017, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 was passed saying, “(d) Restoration Of Rules For Registration And Marking Of Unmanned Aircraft.—The rules adopted by the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration in the matter of registration and marking requirements for small unmanned aircraft (FAA-2015-7396; published on December 16, 2015) that were vacated by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Taylor v. Huerta (No. 15-1495; decided on May 19, 2017) shall be restored to effect on the date of enactment of this Act.” The registration rules are currently back in force. Until the registration regulations are challenged and struck down again, you should abide by them.


  • 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)


Problem 2 – What happens when the person does NOT want to fly anymore?

So the citizen has to register his drone. The drone registration last for 3 years under the current regulations. Are you going to force people to re-register their drones? Must they always have the drone registered? I can see a large group of people just letting the registration lapse and then selling their drones off on Amazon, Ebay, Craiglist, flea markets, and garage sales. Are the sellers required to keep paperwork of who they sold the drone to?

Problem 3- What in the world does the FAA and/or DOT even regulate?

This problem is exactly like gun registration. The lower receiver is what is considered the “gun” and that is what is regulated federally. All the other gun parts you can buy and sell without registration. What is going to be considered the “aircraft” for purposes of drones? The batteries, the motors, the transmitter, the flight controller? Is it only a whole aircraft? Are drone kits regulated or just fully assembled drones?

14 C.F.R 1.1 says, “Aircraft means a device that is used or intended to be used for flight in the air.”  To be logically consistent, only a WHOLE or COMPLETE aircraft can meet this criteria.

Problem 4 – What even is a drone for purposes of registration?

My Cheerson CX-10 can fit in my hand. Are we going to regulate all nanodrones? The paper airplane drone? Is there a weight or operational cutoff?

Problem 5- How are you going to identify the aircraft after the incident/crime/accident?

A drone sucked in a jet engine is going to be all over the place. Are you going to require metal placards attached to the drone? Furthermore, it is easy to scratch off a serial number. Is possession of a drone with a scratched off serial number going to become illegal?

The two main groups that are causing problems are the (1) “how high can it fly” group and the (2) “I will fly wherever I want” group. Both of these groups can be countered with geo-fencing far better than registration. Registration points you to who might have caused the incident, geo-fencing can help prevent it.

Problem 7– How does the DOT or FAA have any authority or congressionally given jurisdiction to require drones to be registered which are on the ground, not being flown, with the drone being turned off, in a box, and inside a building?

I understand that once the drone leaves the store, comes out of the box, goes out of the house, and then gets a smidge off the ground, then the FAA can argue jurisdiction, but how can it argue jurisdiction anywhere before? (For a  more in depth discussion on the topic of the FAA’s jurisdiction, see my book Drones: Their Many Civilian Uses and the U.S. Laws Surrounding Them and my presentation.)

Part 47 is the part of the regulations which talks about registration requirements. 14 C.F.R § 47.1  says, “This part prescribes the requirements for registering aircraft under 49 U.S.C. 44101-44104.” Let’s read 49 U.S.C 44101 which says,  “(a) REGISTRATION REQUIREMENT.—Except as provided in subsection (b) of this section, a person may operate an aircraft only when the aircraft is registered under section 44103 of this title.”

Part 91 are the operational requirements for aircraft. 14 CFR 91.203(a) says, “Except as provided in§ 91.715, no person may operate a civil aircraft unless it has within it the following: . . . (2) An effective U.S. registration certificate issued to its owner or, for operation within the United States, the second copy of the Aircraft registration Application as provided for in§ 47.31(c), or a registration certification issued under the laws of a foreign country.”

Did you notice that § 44101 and § 91.301 both say the word “operate” which is defined in 14 C.F.R. 1.1, “Operate, with respect to aircraft, means use, cause to use or authorize to use aircraft, for the purpose (except as provided in §91.13 of this chapter) of air navigation including the piloting of aircraft, with or without the right of legal control (as owner, lessee, or otherwise).”

Buying a drone from a store is NOT operating a drone. Once the drone leaves the ground outside, then the FAA can argue jurisdiction.

Problem 8 – Where is the $$$$?

Who is paying for this? Is this even in the budget of the FAA and DOT? The FAA is currently having to hire more contractors to pick up the slack in the rulemaking department, DOT docket office, and in the ATO with COA processing. Is Oklahoma City going to be responsible for this?

Problem 9 – How in the world does this work with the Section 336 of the FMRA?

Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act says:

(a) IN GENERAL.—Notwithstanding any other provision of law relating to the incorporation of unmanned aircraft systems into Federal Aviation Administration plans and policies, including this subtitle, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft, if—

(1) the aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use;

(2) the aircraft is operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization;

(3) the aircraft is limited to not more than 55 pounds unless otherwise certified through a design, construction, inspection, flight test, and operational safety program administered by a community-based organization;

(4) the aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft; and

(5) when flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport) with prior notice of the operation (model aircraft operators flying from a permanent location within 5 miles of an airport should establish a mutually-agreed upon operating procedure with the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport)).

(b) STATUTORY CONSTRUCTION.—Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the authority of the Administrator to pursue enforcement action against persons operating model aircraft who endanger the safety of the national airspace system.

(c) MODEL AIRCRAFT DEFINED.—In this section, the term ‘‘model aircraft’’ means an unmanned aircraft that is—

(1) capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere;

(2) flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and (3) flown for hobby or recreational purposes.

Congress passed this to protect recreational flyers. What the FAA is now doing is not “promulgating” any new regulations but merely repurposing the existing “locked in time because of the FMRA” regulations to try and get jurisdiction over drones. This is evidenced in the latest $1.9 million fine against Skypan where the FAA cited multiple violations of regulations other than the 91.13 careless and reckless prohibition.  If the regulations cited above in Problem 7 cannot cover drones being sold in a store because they are not “operating,” the FMRA essentially just locked the FAA out from creating any new regulations.

Problem 10 – How in the world is this a rule and how is it going to get done by Christmas?

The announcement said they were going to try and roll this out by Christmas.  How? Is this non-binding guidance or law? If it is law, then it is required to follow the rulemaking process. The overall idea is that the rulemaking process goes through notice and comment and then publication. The FAA started the rulemaking process in 2009 with the commercial drone rules and they only finally published them in February. That is 6 years! The only way the FAA could do it is through an emergency rulemaking process. This can only happen if there is a direct emergency rule that is published. (I wrote the chapter on the FAA rulemaking process for the American Bar Association book.) I’m just going to start quoting parts of it for your enjoyment.

The normal approach to rulemaking is notice, comment, and then publishing the rule. Publishing a direct final rule which skips the notice step appears to violate the APA; however, the APA allows the FAA to issue a direct final rule without any notice when the FAA has good cause.[11] Good cause is when the rulemaking process is “impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest.”[12] The FAA issues final rules in these three good cause situations.[13]

Generally, a direct final rule will take effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, unless the FAA receives an adverse comment which is a comment showing the rule is inappropriate, ineffective, or unacceptable.[14] If an adverse comment is received, the FAA may withdraw the direct final rule and publish another direct final rule incorporating the comment or publishing a NPRM.[15]

When Notice and Comment is Impracticable

“This exception can be used when an urgent and unsafe condition exists that must be addressed quickly, and there is not enough time to carry out Notice and Comment procedures without compromising safety.”[16] The manual goes on to say the urgency must be explained and the time to give individuals to comply with the AD must reflect the urgency.[17] “For example, it would make little sense to say immediate action is necessary to prevent a landing gear failure and then allow 60 days compliance time to resolve the unsafe condition.[18] Also, the AD should be issued quickly to be consistent with the determination of ‘impracticability.’”[19] In Air Transport Association of America vs. the Department of Transportation,[20] the FAA’s penalty enforcement action was vacated by the U.S. Supreme Court  because:

[T]he FAA is foreclosed from relying on the good cause exception[, from the APA,] by its own delay in promulgating the Penalty Rules. The agency waited almost nine months before taking action to implement its authority under section 1475. At oral argument, counsel for the FAA conceded that the delay was largely a product of the agency’s decision to attend to other obligations. We are hardly in a position to second guess the FAA’s choices in determining institutional priorities. But insofar as the FAA’s own failure to act materially contributed to its perceived deadline pressure, the agency cannot now invoke the need for expeditious action as “good cause” to avoid the obligations of section 553(b).[21]

Manned aircraft N Numbers are hard enough to see. I can’t even see the logo on my Cheerson CX-10 from 10 feet. If there is a crash, do you really think you are going to find the small piece of plastic that had the “sharpie-drawn” N-number on it, the mailbox number stickers, or the serial barcode sticker under the gimbal? The only counter to this is taglets mixed in the plastic matched up with laser etched numbers on the critical parts that would most likely survive a crash (motors, etc.).  Simple registration is useless unless this is a comprehensive manufacturer backed plan. What happens if DJI requires registration but Yuneec does not? I’m not ruling out the registration idea but geofencing would have better results.


An individual took the time to respond to the above post and I include some of his post and my response to follow. His responses are in italics and mine are bold and underlined.

“More importantly, it seems as though you’re putting forward red herrings (somewhat irrelevant issues) to support your case. For example, your “problem” of not enough N numbers is easily solved simply by changing the FAA’s N number mechanism. When the phone company started “running out” of phone numbers years ago, it wasn’t really terribly difficult to create new ones (adding area codes). Adding a supplemental alphanumeric digit to the N Number format, for example, is a simple solution, and wouldn’t necessarily even affect current N number holders (which the addition of new area codes did to many phone number holders).”

The Number issue  isn’t a red herring. 14 C.F.R. 47.15(b) says, “(b) A U.S. registration number may not exceed five symbols in addition to the prefix letter “N”. These symbols may be all numbers (N10000), one to four numbers and one suffix letter (N 1000A), or one to three numbers and two suffix letters (N 100AB). The letters “I” and “O” may not be used. The first zero in a number must always be preceded by at least one of the numbers 1 through 9.” Section 336 of the FMRA effectively locked the FAA into this regulation because the FAA can’t promulgate further drone regulations. The maximum amount is 1,156,000. How are they going to change or add anything without violating the FMRA? 

“Manned aircraft are also grounded, scrapped, sold to others, modified, and rebuilt/restored constantly. So too are new aircraft joining the fleet constantly. There are mechanisms for keeping track (and certifying) of all these. The FAA maintains a database of every registered aircraft in the country (which is also publicly searchable).

Identifying aircraft involved in accidents is also already a system in place. Every manned aircraft (with a few exceptions, such as hang gliders, parachutes, etc.) is required to be registered with the FAA, and every pilot is absolutely required to report any incident or accident they or their aircraft is involved in to the FAA (within a specified time). There are other entities that necessarily get involved, as well, such as law enforcement, fire departments, insurance companies, Customs & Border Patrol, property owners, airport management, DOT, etc.”
People who do stupid things and crimes don’t often report. This is the group the registration is AIMED at. Furthermore, this doesn’t prevent accidents. It only tells these agencies who to maybe look for if they can even identify anything. Geofencing would prevent the problems from happening in the first place.


“Consider how much more cautious and responsible every UAV operator would be in their flying if they knew that there were always other people (including government officials) watching, and that both we and our aircraft would be readily identifiable and held accountable for all our actions. That’s exactly what pilots of manned aircraft do. It’s part of the privilege of flying (and not just in the U.S.), and it’s what helps keep the system as safe as possible. Why shouldn’t everyone entering this same airspace with new aircraft be held to similar standards and regulations?”
The chances of getting caught as a manned aircraft pilot are way higher than that of drone operator. You only have so many airports to land at. On top of that, your transponder and ground based radar track your flying. Drones don’t have transponders, they are almost impossible to track via radar and the operator can simply just run away.
“While analogies are admittedly never perfect, consider briefly this one.

We have extensive rules, regulations, and laws in place throughout the U.S. specifying how motor vehicles can be driven on our public roads and highways. We require a level of training, followed by formal licensing of all our drivers, and we are all required to abide by seemingly countless traffic laws and regulations (speed limits, traffic controls, lane usage, parking restrictions, directions we can drive, off-limits areas, DUI and texting laws, etc.). We also have numerous law enforcement entities empowered to control, restrict, prevent, and arrest us for our failure to abide by these rules.

We accept all this as necessary to keep the best degree of order and safety we collectively can on our nation’s roads and highways. Even so, there are still far too many accidents, injuries, and deaths (generally a result of people not abiding by the laws) — but far fewer than if we didn’t have these rules in place.

Now try to imagine that we suddenly had an onslaught of hundreds of thousands of new unmanned remote control vehicles entering our public roadways, operated by individuals who’ve never driven a car or never earned a driver’s license themselves — many of whom don’t even care who else is out there or what other vehicles on the road might be doing. They just want to have fun with their new “toy.” It would be a safety disaster.

Now, imagine that all these same remote controlled vehicles have the size and mass to cause total destruction of any vehicle they even slightly bumped into, resulting in death or injury.

That’s basically what we’re looking at with mid-air collisions between UAVs and manned aircraft. There’s no such thing as a “minor fender-bender” between two aircraft (of any size) in the air. Mid-air collisions, even between aircraft and things as small as birds, often result in a crash or destruction an aircraft. And there’s something about falling hundreds of feet out of the sky (most particularly the abrupt stop at the ground) that tends to make aircraft accidents far more often fatal than car accidents.”
This is not a good analogy. A better one would be 1,000 or 100,000 of remote controlled Hotwheel like toy cars or small racing cars operating in the grassy area on the side of the road. Occasionally one comes out of the grass and jumps into the road where the cars are. There is a potential that some of the motocycles could be involved in a serious wreck. 
 I do acknowledge that larger drones do present a safety hazard to helicopters, agricultural planes, and small airplanes; however, how in the world is registration going to help with that? Geofencing could somewhat mitigate this problem. (Preventing the rc cars from getting in the road). The NTSB would comb the wreck and have to find some crash survivable parts and to at least identify the first person who bought the drone. Then they would go try and track the chain of tittle down. If they somehow find the last owner, how is a prosecutor going to overcome the “I sold the drone” or “my drone was stolen” argument? A Plaintiff’s attorney might be able to overcome it but an attorney isn’t going to be suing some poor college student. It isn’t worth his time.

“It’s this approach that we as UAV or drone operators need to be taking. It doesn’t help any of us to think that we should be outside the law, or that all the rules, training and certification requirements, or even the rules for how all aircraft need to coexist in the air with each other, shouldn’t apply to us somehow.

Flying is truly a privilege. Most pilots with FAA licenses treat it that way, and commit an amazing amount of effort to training and certification, as well as knowing, understanding, and “playing by the rules.” We as UAV operators need to be willing to do the same, I think.”
Agreed. I’m very against the rogue drone operator mindset. I think that many recreational flyers should educate themselves on how to fly safely. I just think geofencing is way more effective than registration.

I wrote another post here and there are some helpful resources at the bottom that recreational flyers should look into on how to operate safely. I also wrote a book, located here, on drone law and the last chapter is a compilation of everything the FAA has said regarding the safe operation of recreational aircraft. I did this so as to help the non-pilots fly safely. Maybe we should include my book or last chapter with every drone sold in the US? :P

Once again, thank you for your response. Let’s continue to work together to promote safety in the national airspace so we can enjoy flying manned as well as unmanned aircraft. :)


[2] Section 3(b)(5) on page 4 of

[3]Section 337 (b)(2) on page 3 of

[4] 14 CR 107.13 at page 178 of






[10] Fed. Aviation Admin. Order 8130.34C on page 2-1 at

[11] See 5 U.S.C. § 553(b)(3)(B).

[12] Id.

[13] The FAA explains that it issues direct final rules in two situations, but I’m using the APA’s three good cause exceptions which are compatible with the FAA two sections. See 14 C.F.R. § 11.29(a)-(b).

[14] See 14 C.F.R. § 11.31(a).

[15] See 14 C.F.R. § 11.31(c).

[16] Id. at 15.

[17] See id.

[18] See

[19] Id.

[20] Air Transp. Ass’n of Am. v. Dep’t of Transp., 900 F.2d 369 (D.C. Cir. 1990), vacated without opinion and

remanded, 498 U.S. 1023 (1991), vacated as moot, 933 F.2d 1043 (D.C. Cir. 1991).

[21] Id. at 379.

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 31stKeep 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).