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Why and How to Register (and Deregister) Your Drone

Fred Stein

When I lived in New York City over 20 years ago I donated my automobile to a charity. Apparently, I failed to properly deregister my car. Over a year later I was surprised, as the registered owner, to receive a summons to pay a fine of well over $1000 for numerous unpaid parking tickets. In my defense, I submitted the Bill of Sale as proof that I was no longer the legal owner of the vehicle. I was worried but in the end the court decided in my favor. On a side note, I still have the Bill of Sale (should the Department of Traffic Violations in New York City ever decide to review old cases).

What does my story have to do with drones? In many ways, drone and car registration and deregistration are very similar.

Fortunately, FAA Registration is Simple and Convenient.

Chances are, if you are reading this you are already know about pilot certification, vehicle registration, and aircraft marking requirements. To their credit, the FAA has made the registration process very easy and inexpensive using an online portal via the FAA DroneZone ( The FAA also provides excellent guidance on “How to Register Your Drone” at

What happens if I Don’t Register?

From a regulatory perspective, the drone registration requirement is a “critical safety and security risk control.” As such, the FAA expects the maximum level of compliance. The FAA Table of Violations is used when establishing severity levels for punitive sanctions for violations associated with drone operations. For drone operations in non-compliance with safety or safety standards, Severity Level 1 represents the least severe and Level 3 represents a more severe violation. Operating a drone without a registration is a Level 3 violation.

Failure to register an operating drone (that requires registration) may result in the FAA assessing civil penalties up to $27,500 or criminal penalties include fines of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three (3) years.

Deregistering Your Drone

We already established the importance of registering a drone. Now the question is – how important is it to deregister a drone that is discarded, sold, lost, or stolen? In accordance with the FAA’s § 48.115 Requirement to maintain current information, “The holder of a Certificate of Aircraft Registration must update the information using the web-based small unmanned aircraft registration system within 14 calendar days … when aircraft registration requires cancellation for any reason including sale or transfer, destruction, or export.”

Besides the rule, why is it important to update registration information? In my scenario (because I failed to properly deregister my automobile), as far as law enforcement was concerned, I was the owner of the vehicle. As a result of the investigation the court sent me, as the registered owner, a “notice of infraction.” It did not matter that I was not driving the vehicle at any time, all that mattered was the name on the registration, which is why I now ensure both my drone and auto registrations are being managed.

Canceling the registration in FAA DroneZone and removing all registration markings from the aircraft (if able) may protect you from personal liability. If deregistration is required, it is the prudent choice – the process is free, quick, easy, and required by the regulations for the holder of the Certificate of Registration.

If you do not deregister a drone that is no longer in your possession, what could be the result? If the drone is involved in an accident, recovered by law enforcement during a criminal investigation, or operated illegally with remote identification (and the investigation could not identify the pilot flying at the time of the event), you, the registered owner, may be identified as the aircraft operator (49 CFR § 1540.5).

Registration Management: The Simple and Wise Choice

The FAA has defined clear registration requirements and provided the drone community clear and concise education materials. They also have made the registration and deregistration processes quick and easy. If you are reading this blog, chances are you are already complying with the requirements. For the clueless and careless, they face possible severe civil and/or criminal penalties for not registering.

Properly registering and deregistering a drone, in compliance with the regulations, protects the holder of the Certification of Registration from possible civil or criminal liability. Responsible drone registration management is clearly the best option for an informed and responsible holder of a Certification of Registration.

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