Unwrapping a drone this Christmas? Don’t take it out for a spin just yet.

In the eyes of the federal government, that’s not a toy you’ve got; it’s an aircraft.

And that means you’re subject to Federal Aviation Administration regulations, including their latest rule: As of this week, your drone needs to be registered before its first flight, kind of like a plane would.

Here’s what you ought to know:


Q: I just got a drone. What do I do now?

A: First things first: Before you fly your drone, you’ll have to register it with the FAA and mark it with your registration number.

That’s a new rule as of Monday, but it’s one you’ll want to heed. The FAA says flying a drone without registering it could cost you up to $27,500 in civil penalties, $250,000 in criminal penalties and three years in prison.

The process will cost you $5, but the FAA says it will refund the registration fee until Jan. 20. You can take care of that at registermyuas.faa.gov.


Q: What if I already own one?

A: You have a little more wiggle room if you were flying your drone before the registration requirement went into place this week, but you still need to register. You’ll have until Feb. 19 to do that.


Q: Are there any rules about where and how I can fly my drone?

A: You’d better believe it.

For one thing, you need to check how close you are to an airport; if you’re not at least 5 miles away, you’ll need to tell the airport before you fly.

Once you have the go-ahead, there are more rules you should know.

You can’t fly higher than 400 feet above the ground, and the drone has to be within sight throughout its flight. And you shouldn’t fly it above people or moving vehicles.


Q: What are the rules in Minnesota?

A: Under Minnesota law, registration is not required for drones. However, drones used for commercial purposes must be registered with the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Office of Aeronautics.

MnDOT also says drone operators should follow these guidelines: Stay within approved operational areas, don’t fly above populated areas, don’t fly in adverse weather conditions, operate only during daytime hours and remain below surrounding objects. Drone operators should also fly more than 25 feet away from vehicles, boats, buildings or people, and avoid manned aircraft. For more details, go to mndot.gov/aero/drones.


Star Tribune staff writer Kelly Smith contributed to this report.