Allow me to apologize in advance, this is a drone PSA that is going to take some of the fun out of flying for some of you. The concept is simple, you may have purchased a new drone that weighs less than 0.55lb, or under 250 grams, but it’s still a drone, there are still rules to follow!
It is absolutely true that drones smaller than 0.55 lbs do not need to be registered with the FAA before you fly in the United States. However, according to the FAA, you still need to fly safe and follow the rules of the sky.
Since the announcement of the DJI Mavic Mini, the concept of flying without rules has been floating about. Sorry to say, it’s not that simple.
The FAA states as follows:
“All drones flown under Part 107, including those weighing less than 0.55 pounds, must be registered and pilots must hold a Remote Pilot Certificate. Part 107 requirements for pilots include keeping drones in sight, avoiding manned aircraft, and never operating in a careless or reckless manner. Small drones may be flown during the day or during civil twilight with appropriate anti-collision lighting, no more than 400 feet above the ground, and never over anyone not directly participating in the operation.
All flown drones under the exception of limited operations of unmanned aircraft, including those weighing less than 0.55 pounds, do not need to register. Operators are required to comply with FAA rules and safety guidelines.”
Making sure we understand all the points made in there, if your drone weighs less than 0.55lbs:
- You do not need to register the drone for hobby flight
- You do need to register the drone for commercial operations
- You do need to follow all hobby and/or commercial guidelines in the sky
What does that all mean for you?
If you are a commercial operator, with your Part 107 certification in hand, this means nothing. No matter what drone you bring to the job site, you will need to register it and operate the same as for any other drone in your fleet.
If you are a hobby pilot, even if you are just going to let your child fly in the backyard, you will need to seek airspace authorization through LAANC, and follow all of the other drone laws for your flight.
This is a unique situation, of course. For a standard drone that has been registered with the FAA, you are, in effect, entering into a contract with the FAA guaranteeing that you will follow the rules of the sky. Without registration, you are not signing on any dotted lines.
I am no lawyer, but Brendan Schulman, Vice President of Policy & Legal Affairs for DJI, certainly is. We reached out to him to clarify the benefits of the Mavic Mini for hobby pilots that fly under FAA jurisdiction.
Brendan Schulman says that the Mavic Mini is exempt from the FAA’s registration requirements, but that community-based organizations, such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) may create different rules within their safety codes for such lightweight drones. “Using a Mavic Mini instead of a heavier drone is inherently safer,” says Schulman, “regulators have concluded that such a lightweight drone poses negligible safety risk.”
The conclusion to all this is very simple, mini drones, like the DJI Mavic Mini, are still drones. You will have to follow the guidelines laid out by the FAA for your flight, this includes full registration for Part 107 operations. Not having to register the drone before flight is almost entirely just a convenience, not a waiver to fly recklessly, and certainly not a license to fly wherever and whenever you choose, unfortunately. Do keep in mind, according to the FAA, you must fly in accordance with a local hobbyist club’s rules for all recreational flights, so do check out the AMA to find your local club and learn the rules.
Two last things to think about: Age and accessories. First, drone registration can only be done by those 13 years or older. A child younger than this can only pilot the craft if supervised by someone at least 13 years old. For a younger child, the inability to register may prohibit use of the drone, so the smaller drones may be the best toy for them to play with.
Second, do not forget that the weight rule is for the total aircraft take-off weight. In the case of the DJI Mavic Mini, it weighs in at 0.548 lbs, or 249 grams by itself. The use of the optional propeller guards or the Snap Adapter accessory mount would both push the drone well over the limit. Ironically, the weight of a heavy sticker, such as one you might use to display your FAA registration number, could be enough to put the drone over.
Ignoring all the legal stuff, the DJI Mavic Mini really is a slick machine for its size. Well done DJI on getting a fully stabilized camera into an air frame that fits in the pocket.
Looking for drones that do not need registration?