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Effective February 25, 2019, all small (between 0.55 and 55 pounds) unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are required to display the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) registration number on the external surface of the aircraft. This is according to the FAA interim final rule: External Marking Requirement for Small Unmanned Aircraft, published on February 13, 2019. FAA previously allowed such registration numbers to be displayed internally.


The FAA requires registration of small UAS. Upon registration, pursuant to 14 C.F.R. Part 48, the FAA provides UAS owners with a FAA registration number that must be displayed on the aircraft and maintained in legible condition upon visual inspection. See also Registration and Marking Requirements for Small Unmanned Aircraft, 80 Fed. Reg. 78593 (December 16, 2015). Previously, the FAA allowed registration numbers to be affixed to or displayed on UAS within an enclosed compartment, such as a battery compartment, so long as the number is “readily accessible”, without the use of tools. In 2016-2017, the law enforcement community expressed concerns that without an external display of registration devices, first responders could be subjected to a heightened risk of a concealed explosive device. The FAA agreed to impose the external display requirement but postponed doing so because of pending litigation involving the FAA’s Part 48 registration requirements. Congress removed that impediment, however, in December 2017 in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 which affirmed the small UAS registration rules. The FAA issued the interim final rule last week with a remarkably brief period before the effective date to avoid any increased risk during a comment period as a result of “attention drawn to the vulnerability.”

Penalties for FAA violations can be wide-ranging based on the severity of the offense involved.

Request for Comments

The FAA is soliciting comments containing relevant information, data or views on the interim final rule. Comments must be received on or before March 15, 2019 and should include the docket number: “FAA –2018–1084.”

New Proposed Rulemaking for Operations Over People

In addition to the new external display requirements, on February 13, 2019, the FAA also published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) for Operation of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Over People. The proposed rule would, among other things, allow operations of small UAS over people [under certain conditions] and operations of small UAS at night without obtaining a waiver. Comments must be received on or before April 15, 2019 and should include the docket number: “FAA–2018–1087.”

For further details about the new requirements and notice of proposed rulemaking, contact one of the Stinson Leonard Street’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems and Autonomous Vehicles attorneys.