Drones: Basic Federal Law

                                                  Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Drones: Basic Federal Law
By Susan Basko, esq.

Drones equipped with cameras or other sensors are really popular now as a fun hobby or as a business venture.  This article is to let the readers know the basic federal law regarding drone ownership and usage.

Drones are also known as UAVs, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAS, Unmanned Aerial Systems.  More commonly they are just called drones.  Drones can be used by hobbyists to get fun aerial shots.  They can also be used by organizations to survey land, search for a missing person, or make a video to promote a school or park.  Professional drone businesses use unmanned aerial systems, which may have different types of sensors on them, to inspect oil fields and oil rigs, storage tanks, water towers, cell towers, building sites, roofs, etc.  Any inspection job where you need to see the top of anything, a drone can be a great tool.  Most drones send video to a computer on the ground, where it is analyzed and reports made for the client.  

The basic law regarding drones comes from the Federal Aviation Administration, of FAA.  Although States and cities may have local drone laws, the basic laws that all drone owners and users in the U.S. must follow come from the FAA.

There are 3 basics in current federal drone law:
  • 1) Do you need to register your drone?
  • 2) Do you need to be licensed to operate a drone?
  • 3) Does your drone need to be able to communicate its identification?
VERY LIGHTWEIGHT DRONE USED ONLY FOR RECREATIONAL PURPOSE -- DO NOT NEED TO REGISTER.  ALL drones must be registered unless they weigh under .55 pounds or less (under 250 grams) AND if they are flown ONLY under the Exception for Recreational Flyers.  Recreational Flyers are those who are not flying for any organizational or business purpose.  

DRONE OVER .55 POUNDS and up to 55 POUNDS  -- MUST REGISTER.  (THOSE WITH drones over 55 pounds must contact the FAA directly.) You register your drone with the FAA at the Drone Zone.  THIS IS THE LINK TO THE DRONE ZONE: drondzone.faa.gov

Registration costs $5 and is valid for 3 years. You'll need a credit or debit card and the make and model of your drone handy in order to register.  

Create an account and register your drone at dronezone.faa.gov. Select "Fly sUAS under Part 107."
Once you've registered, mark your drone (PDF) with your registration number in case it gets lost or stolen.

YES, If your drone is between .55 pound (half pound) and up to 55 pounds, AND if you operate it for an organization or business, you need to get your Remote Pilot Certificate.

 Become an FAA-Certified Drone Pilot by Passing the Knowledge Test

To be eligible to get your Remote Pilot Certificate, you must be:

  • At least 16 years old
  • Able to read, write, speak, and understand English
  • Be in a physical and mental condition to safely fly a UAS

Study for the Knowledge Test
Review Knowledge Test Suggested Study Materials provided by the FAA.

Obtain an FAA Tracking Number (FTN)
Create an Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) profile prior to registering for the knowledge test.

Schedule an Appointment
Take the Knowledge Test at an FAA-approved Knowledge Testing Center.

Complete FAA Form 8710-13
Once you've passed your test, for a remote pilot certificate (FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application) login the FAA Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application system (IACRA)* to complete FAA form 8710-13.

Review the full process to get your Remote Pilot Certificate.


Yes, drones must now have Remote ID.  There are several ways to meet the requirements.

What is Remote ID?

Remote ID is the ability of a drone in flight to provide identification and location information that can be received by other parties.

Why Do We Need Remote ID?

Remote ID helps the FAA, law enforcement, and other federal agencies find the control station when a drone appears to be flying in an unsafe manner or where it is not allowed to fly. Remote ID also lays the foundation of the safety and security groundwork needed for more complex drone operations.

There are three ways drone pilots will be able to meet the identification requirements of the remote ID rule:

  • Operate a Standard Remote ID Drone (PDF) that broadcasts identification and location information about the drone and its control station. A Standard Remote ID Drone is one that is produced with built-in remote ID broadcast capability in accordance with the remote ID rule's requirements.
  • Operate a drone with a remote ID broadcast module (PDF). A broadcast module is a device that broadcasts identification and location information about the drone and its take-off location in accordance with the remote ID rule's requirements. The broadcast module can be added to a drone to retrofit it with remote ID capability. Persons operating a drone with a remote ID broadcast module must be able to see their drone at all times during flight.
  • Operate (without remote ID equipment) (PDF) at FAA-recognized identification areas (FRIAs) sponsored by community-based organizations or educational institutions. FRIAs are the only locations unmanned aircraft (drones and radio-controlled airplanes) may operate without broadcasting remote ID message elements.

Much of this information is taken from the FAA website on UAS.  Please go there to read more detailed information.  This blog post is a basic summary.  You will need to learn so much more to become a drone pilot.  

TRADEMARKS:  If you are starting a drone business, it's a good idea to protect the name of your business with a registered trademark.  I am a lawyer who registers trademarks, and I recently applied for a trademark for a drone business.  This gave me reason to spend a lot of time searching the trademark database for drone trademarks.  There are two basic categories -- businesses that sell drones as goods, and businesses that run a drone service, such as drone photography, drone inspection, drone search, etc.  You will want to get in with a good drone business name before the best ones are all registered by someone else.  The success of your business can hinge on having a good professional trademarked name.