For more than three years, the FAA has required all of us who fly drones commercially or for fun to register our drones and display the ID number somewhere on the drone. Up until now, that number could be just about anywhere—outside or inside the drone, on the battery compartment, etc. In last week’s Federal Register, the FAA announced a small-but-important update: By February 23—that’s tomorrow—the registration number must be on the outside of the drone.  

It’s a small change that makes a lot of sense. From the rule’s justification:

“The FAA is taking this action to address concerns expressed by the law enforcement community and the FAA’s interagency security partners regarding the risk a concealed explosive device poses to first responders who must open a compartment to find the small unmanned aircraft’s registration number.”

In other words, law enforcement should be able to easily see a drone’s registration number without having to tinker with it. For the time being, this is a reasonable, low-tech response to national safety requirements handed down by other agencies such as the Department of Justice and Homeland Security.

The downside of the drone registration and marking requirement is the same as it’s always been: It relies on individuals to take the initiative, do the right thing, pay the $5, and mark their drones correctly. These law-abiding drone pilots are unlikely to pose any real threats to public safety or national security.

We need a far more reliable long-term solution that doesn’t rely on individual compliance. Fortunately, there’s already one in the works: a requirement for digital remote ID would enable law enforcement to identify who is flying an aircraft and where. That’s important, but it would also spur drone innovation beyond anything we’ve seen yet. In the future, Remote ID would play a key role in allowing the FAA to efficiently route low-altitude air traffic, and it would serve as a foundational element of Universal Traffic Management, which will safely enable remote deployments, autonomous flights, package delivery, and so many other drone operations that, today, seem just out of reach.

In the meantime, break out your Sharpies.

Keep in mind:

  1. All drones flown in the United States—for fun or for work—must be registered with the FAA.
  2. You’ll get your registration number when you register on the FAA DroneZone website (this is not the same as your Part 107 remote pilot certificate number).
  3. Make sure your number is clear and legible on the outside of your drone. Here are some instructions, or you can use the images in this article as an example.