DJI's Mavic Mini weighs 249 grams, making it exempt for registration in the US and other countries with similar regulations.

DJI's new Mavic Mini recently started shipping out to customers. When it was initially announced the Internet was ablaze with excitement about a drone that weighed under 250 grams, exempting it from registration with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and government agencies in other countries where similar laws apply. Comments flooded into drone forums immediately, and a few were concerning.

Some people stated they felt there was no need to abide by airspace regulations and were free to fly anywhere, over people, and at night without a waiver amongst other violations. This, unfortunately, couldn't be further from the truth. I called upon two of my respected friends and colleagues, one 30-year veteran, and one current employee of the FAA, and referenced a post from an industry expert, to help clear up any misconceptions.

What does 'no registration' really mean?

"Of course, sUAS under .55 lbs. (250 grams) do not require registration. However, if the sUAS is being used for commercial work in an effort to be compensated, the aircraft must be registered and FAA Part 107 regulations must be followed by the RPIC (Remote Pilot-in-Command)," said Samuel Nelson, who made it clear he wasn't speaking on behalf of the FAA and was, instead, giving his personal opinion based on his understanding as the Boston regional FaastTeam STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Applied Mathematics) Pro.

Some people stated they felt there was no need to abide by airspace regulations and were free to fly anywhere... this couldn't be further from the truth.

Nelson adds "If flying as a hobbyist, you can avoid registration. However (remote pilots) still must abide to by FAA AC 91-57B AND Title 49 of the United States Code (49 U.S.C) § 44809. People must also remember DJI AeroScope systems can detect drones under .55 lbs. and the serial [number] can be identified to allow for a subpoena to identify the legal owner of the aircraft."

Ryan LaTourette, who runs That Drone Blog and is and admin on the UAV Legal News & Discussion Facebook group pointed out the obvious: "The lesser weight does not negate that the Mavic Mini is still in the eyes of the FAA a drone, an aircraft... Mavic Mini operators are not given a free pass to fly wherever and whenever they wish. The only change at this point is the need to pay $5 to the FAA for a certificate of aircraft registration."

Drones small enough to fit in the palm of your hand aren't necessarily toys. They have a lot of beneficial uses.

What does this mean? A remote pilot flying recreationally must adhere to the following guidelines, including but not limited to:

  • The aircraft is flown within the visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft or a visual observer co-located and in direct communication with the operator.
  • The aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft.
  • In Class B, Class C, or Class D airspace or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport, the operator obtains prior authorization from the Administrator or designee before operating and complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions.
  • In Class G airspace, the aircraft is flown from the surface to not more than 400 feet above ground level and complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions.

Commercial use

While others, including myself, didn't feel the Mavic Mini was appropriate for commercial use, LaTourette pointed out that people shouldn't be so narrow minded. He explains that drones even smaller than the Mini, such as Verity’s Lucie micro drone, have been used in professional scenarios for the past few years. Ryze's Tello drone has been an instrumental tool in getting folks, especially children, excited about STEAM education. Intel drones, weighing in at 68 grams, are responsible for putting on the world's most elaborate fireworks displays.

Verity drones weigh a mere 50 grams and have completed over 150,000 autonomous flights safely over people at rock concerts and other live events.

If you plan on using the Mavic Mini for commercial purposes in the United States, meaning you plan to receive compensation for work conducted with your drone, you will need to register the drone plus have your Part 107 certification. I personally recommend Remote Pilot 101 for straightforward, affordable training. There is, of course, a conundrum that comes with following the rules.

Loretta Alkalay, an aviation attorney who spent 30+ years with the FAA as Regional Counsel, had the following to say: "As far as the weight issue, the FAA's drone laws are not rationally related to the potential safety impact of very small drones. That results in people either intentionally ignoring the laws because they are overly restrictive or failing to even realize that laws apply. Coupled with the lack of FAA enforcement, the people most penalized are those who do know the regulations and choose to comply with them. Of course, those who violate the regulations and get caught could face serious consequences, depending on the violation and circumstances."

The people most penalized are those who do know the regulations and choose to comply with them.

Speaking of impact, lower weight gives potential to the criteria for the FAA’s latest NPRM on easement of the §107.39 regulation for flight over people. Flying over people is currently prohibited under the §107.39 regulation. No one may operate a drone over people unless they are directly participating in the operation or are shielded under a covered structure such as a car.

So why make a lightweight drone?

DJI is certainly proud of themselves for fitting some of their most advanced features into a drone that weighs 249 grams upon takeoff. So why stuff all those features into a tiny package? Safety and the impending ruling for allowing flight over people are two top reasons.

According to a DJI Hub article that was shared by the company's Vice President of Policy & Legal Affairs, Brendan Schulman, "regulators in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, continental Europe, Australia, and other regions have agreed that drones weighing less than 250 grams (0.55 pounds) are virtually harmless. In a fall or a collision, a sub-250g drone is just not going to cause the same kind of damage as a heavier drone."

The Mavic Mini is tiny compared to other compact drones like the Mavic 2 Pro, but you still need to follow the normal rules when flying it.

In spite of negative media coverage, drones have been proven to be safe while providing many benefits to numerous industries including healthcare, construction, mining, agriculture and more. As Samuel Nelson pointed out earlier, the Mavic Mini is also equipped with AeroScope for Remote Identification which allows safety and security officials to detect, identify, and locate the drone and its pilot during flight if necessary. Going lighter and more compact, to ensure safety when performing complex operations, is a logical trend that is taking hold of the industry.

To find out if a Mavic Mini is an ideal purchase for you, check out our comprehensive review.