Earlier today, the FAA announced its rules for drone registration. Any drone weighing more than 250 grams, which is roughly half a pound or about two sticks of butter, has to be registered by February 16th, 2016, or the drone’s owner could face thousands of dollars in fines.
But if you already have a drone, just bought one for your niece for Christmas, or are thinking about getting one, here’s a simple guide to see if yours meets the weight limit. It’s by no means comprehensive, but should give you a rough idea of what types of drones people will have to register.
There’s one important point before beginning, and that’s about usage. Previous drone laws required strict constraints on drones used for commercial reasons, and were very lenient for model airplane hobbyists. If someone uses drones for business, each drone will need to be registered. If someone just has a lot of drones, and they just fly them within the law and for fun, they’ll probably be able to take advantage of the special registration rule for model airplane enthusiasts in the new registration statute. It specifies that “An individual owner registering small unmanned aircraft operated exclusively as model aircraft must pay a single fee of $5 for the issuance of a Certificate of Aircraft Registration,” which serves as registration for their entire fleet. This works not just for model airplanes, but for any drones flown purely for hobbyist reasons, rather than commercial ones.
Kelsey D. Atherton is a defense technology journalist based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work on drones, lethal AI, and nuclear weapons has appeared in Slate, The New York Times, Foreign Policy, and elsewhere.