The FAA Mandates External Registration Markings For Drones

Drone fliers in the USA must soon display their registration markings on the exterior of their craft, rather than as was previously acceptable, in accessible interior compartments. This important but relatively minor regulation change has been announced by the FAA in response to concerns that malicious operators could booby-trap a craft to catch investigators as they opened it in search of a registration. The new ruling is effective from February 25th, though they are inviting public comment on it.

As airspace regulators and fliers across the world traverse the tricky process of establishing a safe and effective framework for multirotors and similar craft we’ve seen a variety of approaches to their regulation, and while sometimes they haven’t made complete sense and have even been struck down in the courts, the FAA’s reaction has been more carefully considered than that in some other jurisdictions. Rule changes such as this one will always have their detractors, but as an extension of a pre-existing set of regulations it is not an unreasonable one.

It seems inevitable that regulation of multirotor flight will be a continuing process, but solace can be taken at the lower end of the range. A common theme across the world seems to be a weight limit of 250 g for otherwise unrestricted and unregistered craft, and the prospects for development in this weight category in response to regulation are exciting. If a smaller craft can do everything our 2 kg machines used to do but without the burden of regulation, we’ll take that.

68 thoughts on “The FAA Mandates External Registration Markings For Drones

        1. This will kill the Frisbee industry. :-) We’ll have to till up all those Frisbee golf courses and replace them with games about rolling stuff rather than throwing them. No more hand tossed pizza or pancakes. No more hot-dog/T-shirt guns a baseball games….. sigh.. Perhaps we should just launch the bureaucrats. They’re not human anyway and it would be fun to watch them fine each other for noncompliance.

          1. ” We’ll have to till up all those Frisbee golf courses and replace them with games about rolling stuff rather than throwing them.”

            Are you crazy? Rolling things are too wheel like. You would be trading one over-reaching big brother for separate little ones with different rules in each state made by their respective DOTs.

          2. …sigh…I guess we could just let the grass and trees grow and play hide and seek then and make friends with the squirrels and foxes that would move into the space while we sit at small tables playing chess or dominoes at select shady spots. :-)

  1. This is coming to the UK later this year. The CAA haven’t yet decided how to implement it.

    From CAP1763 Article 94D:
    * An SUA operator must have a valid registration when his/her small unmanned aircraft if (sic) flown and the registration number must be displayed on the aircraft

    This doesn’t come into force until November 30 2019 so the CAA still have some thinking time.

      1. I fly acrobatic and scale rc airplane’s, I have no clue why they are being grouped in with “drones”. I have a new super scale/giant scale Cobra racing biplane on the bench being built, so it will look awsome with my FAA no plastered on it.

    1. Where I live 10′ is close to 3 meters. Here in America that reads as 10 feet. :-) It would take one huge drone to properly mark that baby. Thoughts of the British “flying bum” come to mind. There would be room for plenty of markings on that thing, but why bother? Everyone knows what it is when it’s flying about. :-)

  2. A. How man malicious operators have booby-trapped a craft to catch investigators as they opened it in search of a registration?
    B. How will an external sticker stop the malicious operators from booby-trapping a craft?

    1. I personally do not believe it is 100% about intentional malicious operators have booby-trapped a craft but also those who are not being malicious about it and just plain stupid. go on youtube and pick your favorite e-celeb be it casey neistat or any of the others that decide to go to a large city and fly a uav out of their hotel window and believe it is perfectly fine because they are some type of e-celebrity. This will hopefully allow the FAA to go after them and I for one hope they hit these types of operators with everything they have because this is part of what is ruining unmanned hobby aircraft for the rest of us.

      1. How big of craft are we talking about here?

        I don’t mean in the new rules, obviously that’s “0.55 lbs” per the text of the law itself.
        I am asking about what size craft these “e-celebrities” are flying out their hotel windows.

        I am imagining something that is a tiny aluminum or carbon fiber tube frame with tiny motors at the ends, guards around the propellers, foam on all the sharp bits and nothing too massive in the center. I would much rather live in a society where I have a non-zero probability of getting hit in the head (accidentally) by something like that as I walk down the street than one where such things can only be enjoyed away from people. Don’t get me wrong, trees are beautiful but you can only video so many before the fun is all gone!

        On the other hand, if someone wants to say no full milk jugs, bowling balls or Acme anvils flying over our heads. I am certainly ok with that rule!

        I guess what I am asking about isn’t so much the law because that is a clear number that can be read but the etiquette. If the consensus is “no flying things in public” then I think the public should get bent. Building and operating “toy drones” could have great societal value getting people into making. At worst it just means a population that is more technically competent, at best it might inspire a generation of engineers. If that activity is confined to only being viable in the back of some club member’s cow pasture and only on the second thursday of the month or whenever they hold their meetings very few will bother and it just isn’t going to have any significant impact.

        1. …After reflecting on your posting, I’m starting to think that the root of all this frustration comes from the nonlocality of law making, enforcement, and accountability. When kids are at home with Mom there, she sets the rules and enforces them. She also knows the context and can deem what is reasonable or not. The only missing thing is accountability which is actually taken care of since the kids she cares for are her own flesh and blood and she loves them. In that context, children can thrive and enjoy life. (once the dishes are washed) Now I’m not saying we should put mothers in charge of each nieghborhood to reign over it (might actually work) but if all laws had to be blessed locally to stand and all officials lived in thier own neighborhood being known by and knowing the local citizens, that could work. (support your local sheriff) The problem is that communities are too big for civilized behavior to prevail. Why be nice to the person in front of you when you will probably never see them again once they leave? That unnatural situation causes people to make equally unnatural laws and unreasonable enforcement. We are too mobile and treat people as disposible. People far too often think “I don’t need you. I’ll just find another person to talk to when you are no fun anymore.” Foriegn empowerd officials are agents of evil as much as locally accountable officials can be good because the relationships make them good. …kind of a utopian perspective but not completely undoable. We need less million sized cities and more few-thousand sized. That would help. We are “taxing” ourselves proportionally to how many other people are living near by, rendering some of the richest urbanites poorer than many ordinary country hicks, but they don’t know that because of the seductive draw of all the noise and lights, and the freedom to treat each other like trash. Real wealth is measured not by how much you have but how much you need. If you have everything you need right now, you’ve got everything. It would be stupid to sacrifice something you need to acquire some flashy thing you want …. Personally, I live in a relatively remote place, but the electricity stays on along with the internet. UPS delivers and there is a general riegn of law and order so no one bothers you if you want to do something on your own property. I actually know my county sheriff, my pastor, the postmaster and my mail-man (who is actually a very pleasant lady who loves saying high to my border collie when she comes). I would wish that situation on every soul if I could (Where’s that Thanos glove?) People would be a lot better off that way, especially if they had a garden and traded produce with their neighbors. People could even raise bees and can their own jams and still program them arduinos and argue on the internet. :-) ….When did I become a hippie?? … must be the effects from the beard I’m growing. :-)

          1. I see some truth to what you are saying. I moved from a village of thousands, where I grew up to one of 10s of thousands and finally to a city of millions.

            The village of thousands was unbearable. I think that when everybody knows everyone else people start to turn tribal. You get a narrow local culture and anyone who doesn’t fit that culture is an outsider that gets treated very poorly.

            The town of 10s of thousands was great! Sure, it was a little less personal but when being personal meant being jerks I don’t see the problem with that. For the most part people minded their own business which was a nice change. Isolation wasn’t a problem. The neighbors may have been strangers but with so many people around there were plenty of events and groups to join where friends could be made. I never seemed to have any problems there.

            The city of millions is more like the town of thousands but not quite. Local rules are a bit more intrusive and the bureaucrats are unsympathetic jerks when it comes to enforcement. Still, it isn’t very bad. I insisted on finding a home with no HOA and that helps. Other than that it’s pretty much the same as the city of 10s of thousands. I’m not as up on the social scene here though as I have family responsibilities now.

            I don’t see how any of this answers the original question though.

  3. “Drone fliers in the USA must soon display their registration markings on the exterior of their craft, rather than as was previously acceptable, in accessible interior compartments. ”

    I’m buying stock in the Sharpie market.

  4. ” If a smaller craft can do everything our 2 kg machines used to do but without the burden of regulation, we’ll take that.”

    Sounds like a HaD challenge, doesn’t it? How about wiring up a bee, or bird?

  5. Drones with a range of 500 meters or more should be registered with the FAA . for aviation safety . and 500 meters and less should not be registered and listed as hobbyist and toy drones .

    1. 500 meters (1640 feet) is still more than enough for a drone to peep on some hot couple making love in an apartment whose curtains were left open, or to follow a celebrity for those juicy tabloid photo.

    2. And how do you determine that range? My toy drone can do more than 500 meters. Not with the stock transmitter, but binding it to something with a decent antenna it’ll do that distance. So is the range with the stock transmitter or with something more powerful? How about an actively aimed Yagi setup? Range is a stupid limiter and hard to decide.

  6. ” in response to concerns that malicious operators could booby-trap a craft to catch investigators as they opened it in search of a registration. ”

    So… why would these malicious operators even have the correct markings on the outside of the drone? Or booby trapped it in some other way to set off if it was disturbed, or even approached.

    This threat model seems kind of a weak justification. I could see plenty of other good reasons for an external marking, such as being able to identify it in a video, or by eye-witnesses, or to confirm a drone is registered. Though even then, what’s the enforcement on unmarked, or incorrectly marked drones?

    1. Yeah, it seems like they probably also listed good reasons, not just the silly one.

      Maybe they mentioned only that reason in the story for entertainment reasons? If you talk about regulations in a practical manner, it is a boring subject and doesn’t generate many clicks, but if you phrase it so sound ridiculous, then you’ll get lots of outraged clicks.

  7. How many have actually read up on the requirements listed in that new regulation?
    It’s not just that you have to have the small aircraft marked, the operator must be licensed as a UAS pilot.
    If you start at the linked article:
    it sends you then to another article:
    which then references:

    Reading the last manual (that was published in June of 2018), it goes way down the rabbit hole. The idea that you should be knowledgeable on safe operation of the drone is fine, but it goes into control tower operations, health requirements, etc…
    Then you will need to schedule and pay for testing at a FAA authorized testing location. These appear to be civil aviation training centers.
    There is a reason that I’m not a pilot… I fly RC because I don’t want to cough up the $$$ for civil aviation, and the over priced classroom time that is associated with it.

    Even digging into the Congressional bill wording from 2018 that these reference,
    “Exception for limited recreational operations of unmanned aircraft” section, it says: “… a person may operate a small unmanned aircraft without specific certification or operating authority from the Federal Aviation Administration if the operation adheres to all of the following limitations:”
    The problem with this is that the 7th item is: “The operator has passed an aeronautical knowledge and safety test described in subsection (g) and administered by the Federal Aviation Administration online for the operation of unmanned aircraft systems and maintains proof of test passage to be made available to the Administrator or law enforcement upon request.”

    For the light drones, there is the following:
    “§ 45511. Micro UAS operations”
    “(5) by an operator who has passed an aeronautical knowledge and safety test administered by the Federal Aviation Administration online specifically for the operation of micro unmanned aircraft systems, with such test being of a length and difficulty that acknowledges the reduced operational complexity and low risk of micro unmanned aircraft systems;”

    Again, the weight category is requiring official training and testing. I’m not finding anything that specifically says anything about a 250g category, since the 45501 defines “Micro UAS” as 4.4 lbs, which would be the 2kg range.

    I may well be missing something here, as I’m new to the drone game, but more and more looking like this is a nasty mess that is intended to keep everyone tied up in red tape, or to burn those who can’t make heads or tails of it and choose to fly without trying to sort the whole mess out.

      1. Or they’ll do what happens here in Japan.
        They turn a blind eye to many things and let it be until you cause a problem then they bitchslap you with the rulebook.

        Heaven help the person that makes the Japanese policeman get off his butt and do his job!

  8. I build and fly mini quads, I write my registration number on one of 12 spinning blades, on each of said 8 “drones”. My issue stems from it really means nothing. Anyone can copy my number on another “drone” witch they saw from a pic. It doesn’t really pin point ones aircraft from another. Not like a person who owns more than one car has multiple vin numbers. I agree the regulations ID should be in sight, but the whole concept of a ID number makes no sence.

    1. “Not like a person who owns more than one car has multiple vin numbers.”


      Yes, each vehicle has it’s own VIN directly from the manufacturer and it’s mounted in sight behind the windscreen (on most modern cars anyway). So unless the car is stolen and a very determined thief takes out the windshield and puts in a new VIN plaque, they’ll definitely have a different VIN on each car!

      1. I’m pretty sure the vin exists on other, even less accessible parts of the car to prevent this. Of course using those ones to catch somebody would probably require suspicion to the point of probably cause, a search warrant and a lot of work.

  9. Does anyone not see the regulation weirdness in all this vs. the lessor regulation of semiautomatic weapons?
    I can no longer buy half of the chemicals I had in my old 1963 chemistry set for one reason or another.
    Remember (the unmemorable) “Runaway” scene with Jean Simmons and Tom Seleck and those little weaponized exploding RC cars? And what about driverless cars as weapons? Or Romaine Lettuce? So where are Trump’s deregulation guys on this?

      1. It is reasonable to complain about the constantly growing kudzu of beurocratic regulation. Some day it will strangle all of us if we don’t start chopping way at it, unless we want 100% of the economy to go underground into the darknet. Whether we are talking about drones, firearms, cars, or chemicals you would want to buy at the drug-store, excessive regulation and beurocracy stinks like a stagnant swamp.

      2. Guns aside, over regulation is just as bad as no regulation. It impedes on creativity and learning.

        Are kites deemed micro unmanned aerial vehicles?

        Screw having fun, that’s not allowed anymore. You need to have a pricey license to have fun now.

        When it gets over regulated you’ll just see an influx of “how to build your own drone from junk and a control it with a spool of wire” posts here on HaD.

        Speaking of tethers, how does this apply to kites, and if it does not apply to kites, would adding a wire tether allow one to continue using their drone?

        1. I can see it!!….happily and leagally flying your kite in the sturdy wind….then the string breaks and now the kite is free-flying. You are now breaking the law and get fined and/or get deemed as a criminal, get fired because you no longer can pass a background check and can never get a decent job again for the same reason. I’d like to string some of the idiots that make these regulations up onto a kite. (sure would take a big one but many would be up to the challenge in both will and means especially if the situation described puts a lot of time on their hands, I’d wanto to check to make sure to choose a “pilot” who has no young children. We don’t want to create any orphans. )

      3. It is a reasonable request to ask for regulations matching the risk of something. Assault rifle: buy at Walmart, Drone: prohibited unless you are a certified pilot. That makes 0 sense.

        1. It is good to be able to buy a decent rifle at Walmart. The masses need access to fire-arms in case the combined corruption of both public officials and criminal thugs (sometimes undifferentiable) gets out of hand. It’s the governmental “reset button” needed by the people to keep government the servants of the people and not vice versa. That’s the spirit of the 2nd Amendment in the US Constitution. I do agree that such equipment needs to be treated with great care and reverence, but not restricted for access except requiring the buyer be an adult. Liberty trumps extreme safety obsessions for without liberty one in never truly safe. I would also say that drones have a similar range of constructive and destructive potential to that found in firearms and should be treated with similar care, respect, and access.

          1. I agree with all of that except that it think that a “government reset button” might be basically impossible at this point with anything short of a stash of nukes. And I’m not sure I am ready to see my neighbors all buying those!

            Also, here in the US at least we still have at least an appearance of democracy and I think most people still believe in it. Starting a revolution against democratically elected leaders, crappy as they are might be rather inappropriate. (I’m going for that understatement award here).

            The real problem we have here are the parties. The 2 big ones are evil and the rest are all either batshit insane or a combination of batshit insane and evil. Most people think they believe in one of those 2 parties although if you start asking them about it you find it’s more they have internalized all it’s rhetoric about how bad the other one is. They are voting against “the wrong lizard” if you know the reference.

            What might work would be a multi-vote. Each person can vote for as many candidates (write-ins included) as they want per-office. It’s still fair, you don’t get to vote multiple times for one candidate. In a sense each one you vote for waters down the other votes. But, it allows you to vote against “the wrong lizard” while still voting for a good candidate too. Not that we have any. But maybe this kind of change would embolden more people to start some actual decent third parties or to run independently. Then we might have some progress.

            That would take a constitutional amendment and not one that the powers in charge today would see as being in their interest. Making that happen just might require those nukes after all! Not that I want to go there.

          2. You obviously are a thoughtful soul and would be fun to debate with in a group of people in constitutional convention mode. :-) Pure democracy without moral compass scares me. Like two wolves and a sheep deciding on what to do about supper. We live in a constitutional republic which demands a reign of law. I’m so glad that soldiers and government officials take a vow of loyalty to the constitution and not some group of people because people come and go but the constitution stays. Still, there could be amendments as needed. Like you, I’m not fond of the behavior of either political party. One has no moral compass and the other has to balls and I’ve been around the sun too many times to believe in any third party no matter how good it is. That’s why I find myself for the least degenerate group, in this case the Republicans, but my loyalty is dependent on how well they behave. If I was to propose constitutional change I would propose that the federal government only be allowed to relate to the states and not the citizens. Citizens should only have to contend with the local governments and those local governments should have to deal with federals. Presidential electoral voters, congressmen, and senators should all be chosen by the state governments, be employees of their respective states and discharged and replaced by those states whenever they choose to do so, probably with the usual governor appointing them and being approved by the state legislature. All federal taxes need to come from the states’ funds and never the citizens. Citizens form a community in a city or county. A state is a community of counties/cities/districts and the United States is a community of states. The feds (the lowest level of government) have no business usurping the state’s authority and messing with the lives of the citizens (the highest level of government). Also I would make it acceptable for all congressional functions both house and senate to be done from members’ offices in their own districts with remote communication as the norm and no physical gathering. We should turn the capital building into a museum with all meetings being done with phone/video-confrencing/telepresense. That way special interests wouldn’t have that one-stop-shopping situation they currently have in Washington D.C. Also constituents could much more easily reach out an touch their representatives and keep them loyal to their interests. How many US senators start out OK and then “loose their soul” once they have been in Washington D.C. long enough? That’s got to stop and modern communications can solve that problem. Plus there’s a huge security benefit in the US legislature being distributed like that. Also, all votes could be done on a public block-chain making it their votes virtually incorruptible and well documented. Well that’s my $0.02 for what it’s worth. (not as much as it used to be worth and more than it probably will be considering the government’s fiscal behavior) I don’t know where you live and I’m not asking, but where I live saying “May everything that keeps you warm keep running.” is a blessing I make and I mean it. Stay warm. :-)

          3. More reason to remind everyone we need Lean Sigma implemented and Validation Government procedures and oversight. Easily accomplished with logical procedures that iterate through all the U.S. Jurisdiction Constitutional and Statutory Law (even Administration Law too) to verify acts, events and even moods from thoughts don’t let situations become corrupt. I’m surprised no one has done so to invalidated all the unlawful case law.

          4. so we have beurocrats watching beurocrats watching beurocrats… what could possibly go wrong? Will there be anyone left to actually be productive? What if all those beurocrats are all foxes watching the hen-house? Would they not agree no matter what the situation is? Corruption trumps procedure. Bad people can mess up the best of management systems.

          5. No, my vision is more like I experienced in regards to DHHS (OSHA/DOJ/DHS also) for the most part regulated industry with me trying (and somewhat internal affairs able to) to integrate and basically fuse the compartmentalized or “silo’ed” departments information systems together for ideally anyone can access the information… whether consumer, regulator or third party auditor. So… since public resource regulated systems and public distributed systems that even if privately held entities… still derive revenue from the public and profit from the public… there will be transparent information resources available to review processes from the input to the output throughout the lifecycle of whatever desired variable to review. Since government is a representative government with required rights derived from the civilians… then the civilians need to have access to information to lead their civil and military servants regarding domestic and international affairs to avoid arguments and maintain the peace in valid ways and means. Then with job aids like say for legal or health regulations (Constitution and Statutes and Administrative), we can compare to the spirit, intent and letter of all the books combined with help in logic processing of all the combinations since computers can narrow down by iterating through all the combinations and permutations of events based on the known variables. Seems brain damaged not to.

          6. Still sounds like a lot of complexity and complexity is perfect cover for corruption. Also, making government transparent is almost impossible, even if we had it on a public blockchain. There will always be hidden email accounts and secret communications and transactions as long as there are humans. (And humans are born totally depraved – just ask Calvin) I’d prefer a fractal government structure with small communities of small communities of small communities….. perhaps about 12 members each. As a group they decide what its members may or may not do with membership possibly being optional. 12, give or take a few, is a magic number because with 12 members anyone with something to say can be heard, but no one entity can dominate the entire group. Each community of 12 would send a person as a representative to the meetings of the group that community is a member of. Interestingly the US started out with very near that perfect number of states as its membership and it was at that time that all the great checks and balances systems were set up because they know man is naturally corrupt and needed to set up a system that had a chance of working in that context. No matter what the system is or how well it id designed, the better the character of it’s members, the better the outcome. alas..the kind of things we need to teach to make truly good people are difficult to express publicly because many of them are politcally incorrect. We can have either political correctness or civilization but not both.

          7. I have to think about that some more. I never really was critical about “new” government implementations and use to more like corporate models and governance/administration… identifying the gaps causing incidents or deviations and formulating corrective and preventative action(s) in detailed SOP’s or other protocols to ensure a valid holistically system/operation/site/entity.

            “Interestingly the US started out with very near that perfect number of states as its membership and it was at that time that all the great checks and balances systems were set up because they know man is naturally corrupt and needed to set up a system that had a chance of working in that context. No matter what the system is or how well it id designed, the better the character of it’s members, the better the outcome. alas..the kind of things we need to teach to make truly good people are difficult to express publicly because many of them are politcally incorrect”

            I think there is a problem with kneeling to others politics that we know are more primate, crude and archaic with known flaws and issues that are more wild, predator, inbred and chaotic. I think that is why the U.S. may have not been so much an issue with a more powerful Senate and more a Monroe Doctrine. More focused on a standard versus careless emotionally magnified illogical short term gratification. The founders were more focused on perpetuity and Christian principles.

            “We can have either political correctness or civilization but not both.”

            I don’t buy into that paradigm of thinking. I think there is an issue with the fashion industry brainwashing along with marketing and many do not understand the origin of those activities and events causation. Some of those founders are more narrow minded narcissists that are highly coercive, seductive, manipulative and intimidating and may be the most trait’ed of that group of the observed World population and not just a sample set based on demographics.

    1. When a friend has already been visited by the local authorities due to his flying at 400 feet (staying well short of the 450 foot threshold that you mention) just doe to proximity to an airport 8 miles away, I’m going to argue that you don’t know the full limits of their authority.

      The instructions he was given was to keep it below the tree line, which is around 70 feet at his location…

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