Home / Technology / The FAA announces drone registration requirements, waives registration fee

The FAA announces drone registration requirements, waives registration fee

For months, the drone industry has been waiting to see what the FAA’s registration requirements for unmanned aircraft (UAS, or what we typically call “drones”) would be, as well as how much they’d cost. The FAA has finally released its drone registration plan, and the organization appears to have taken several steps to ensure registration is relatively easy and painless. The penalty for not registering, on the other hand, is anything but.

First, the ground rules. All owners of drones weighing more than 0.55 lbs when fully loaded must register the device with the FAA. Those who purchased a drone prior to December 21, 2015 must register by February 19, 2016, even if the drone has previously flown while unregistered. Anyone who buys a drone after December 21 must register before the aircraft takes its first flight. Children 13 and over can register their own vehicles, but drones for kids under 13 must be registered by someone at least 13 years of age. Upon registering, the aircraft owner will receive a certificate of registration, which must then be affixed to the aircraft.

Drones interfered with multiple firefighting efforts this year, putting crews and planes at risk.

Drones interfered with multiple firefighting efforts this year, putting crews and planes at risk.

The FAA is implementing these rules relatively quickly based on the rapid rise of drones and increasing interference with other vehicles. The total number of drone incidents reported in 2014 was 238. In 2015, it leapt to 1133. With hundreds of thousands of drone sales expected over the Christmas holiday, the FAA is clearly concerned about the potential for even more incidents in 2016. As we’ve covered before, the risks of drone ingestion and the subsequent aircraft damage that could occur is no laughing matter. Depending on their size and weight, drones can be difficult for aircraft or helicopter pilots to see, can maneuver much more quickly than their larger cousins, and could cause catastrophic damage in the event an accident. Couple these problems with the fact that most drone operators have little to no knowledge of how to operate within restricted airspace and no means of establishing radio contact with other aircraft, and you’ve got a disaster waiting to happen.

According to the official rules: “Aircraft registration provides an immediate and direct opportunity for the agency to engage and educate these new users prior to operating their unmanned aircraft and to hold them accountable for noncompliance with safe operating requirements, thereby mitigating the risk associated with the influx of operations. In light of the increasing reports and incidents of unsafe incidents, rapid proliferation of both commercial and model aircraft operators, and the resulting increased risk, the Department has determined it is contrary to the public interest to proceed with further notice and comment rulemaking regarding aircraft registration for small unmanned aircraft. To minimize risk to other users of the NAS and people and property on the ground, it is critical that the Department be able to link the expected number of new unmanned aircraft to their owners and educate these new owners prior to commencing operations.”

The initial registration costs $ 5, but the government is waiving that fee to encourage people to sign up. Sign-ups can also be performed online, at the following website. Failure to register one’s drone carries a steep penalty — up to $ 27,000 in civil fines. If an unregistered drone is involved in criminal activity, the penalty jumps to $ 250,000 and up to three years in jail. The FAA is claiming that the 0.55 lb weight requirement means that a number of toy drones don’t need to be registered, though I’ve seen users arguing this is not the case.

The $ 5 requirement is the same fee the FAA has charged to register aircraft since 1966 and has not been updated since then. In real terms, it’s actually much cheaper to register a drone today than it was to register an aircraft in 1966, when $ 5 was worth $ 36.70 in today’s money. According to FAA testimony from 2010, the $ 5 fee doesn’t actually cover registration and renewal expenses, though that may have been before the adoption of the online form.

While it’s true that these rules won’t stop people from flying drones into restricted airspace or interfering with firefighters, the FAA believes that the majority of reported drone incidents are caused by ignorance, not deliberate attempts to interfere. By requiring drone registration, the government hopes to reduce such incidents in the long run.

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