The small UAS (sUAS) registry applies only to hobby/recreational drones weighing between 0.55 pounds (250 grams) and less than 55 pounds (approx. 25 kilograms), including payloads such as on-board cameras. Deadlines for registering sUAS are Feb. 19, 2016 if you owned your drone before Dec. 21, 2015, or before your first flight for any new drones purchased from the 21st on. Register by paper or online. There’s a $5 registration fee, but that will be refunded if you register within the first 30 days.
But here’s the catch…
In the FAA’s “Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft” [Docket No. FAA-2014-0396], they state:
… to qualify as a model aircraft, the aircraft would need to be operated purely for recreational or hobby purposes, and within the visual line of sight of the operator. The policy statement also clarified that AC 91-57 applied only to modelers and “specifically excludes its use by persons or companies for business purposes.” 72 FR at 6690. … The policy statement also clarified that AC 91-57 applied only to modelers and “specifically excludes its use by persons or companies for business purposes.” 72 FR at 6690.
And they give the following examples:
|Hobby or Recreation||Not Hobby or Recreation|
|Viewing a field to determine whether crops need water when they are grown for personal enjoyment.||Determining whether crops need to be watered that are grown as part of commercial farming operation.|
|Taking photographs with a model aircraft for personal use.||Photographing a property, event [or idyllic farm scene] and selling the photos to someone else [or using the photos on the farm website or other forms of advertising].|
Simply speaking, if you’re taking your drone to a safe site off the farm just to enjoy the fun of flying and taking some photos/videos for your personal enjoyment, you’ll be safe with a sUAS registration. However, as soon as you fly your UAS (small or not!) over your farm to check your crops/livestock on the back 40, or take some photos to post on your farm website, you’re a commercial operator and need to register as a Civil Operation (non-Governmental) and through the regular Aircraft Registry. Be sure to register for both ‘aerial photography’ and ‘agriculture’ in case you decide to add some sensors other than cameras.
These rules are meant to insure the safety of our skies, and the FAA can levy some pretty hefty fines to make their point, including civil penalties up to $27,500 and criminal penalties include fines of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years, just for flying an un-registered sUAS.
Whether you plan to play around with a hobby drone are thinking of ways to put a sUAS to use on the farm, safety is a key consideration. The FAA has partnered with several industry associations to educate the public about using unmanned aircraft safely and responsibly. Remember these rules when you fly:
- Fly below 400 feet altitude.
- Keep your unmanned aircraft in sight at all times.
- Never fly near manned aircraft, especially near airports.
- Never fly over groups of people, stadiums or sporting events.
- Never fly near emergency response efforts.