Starting next week, the US government will require all consumer drones to be registered by the Federal Aviation Administration. This is part of an ongoing effort to increase safety and awareness around the use of drones for hobby and recreation, as reports of near-collisions between drones and airplanes are on the rise.
Despite rules that mandate operators to fly them below a 400-foot altitude, further than five miles from an airport, and within eyesight, many drone enthusiasts ignore these restrictions. In one notable incident, a drone crash-landed at this past September’s U.S. Open Tennis Tournament. Illegal uses of commercial drones can lead to deeply unsafe flying conditions for aircraft pilots and their passengers and is potentially hazardous to drivers and pedestrians. Many also support the new rule as a way to encourage drone hobbyists to think of themselves as pilots, with all of the responsibilities that title entails.
The decision to mandate drone registration has been long expected is timely: consumer drones are predicted as popular holiday gifts this year. The law formally goes into effect on December 21, 2015; all who purchase drones on or after that date must register their aircraft prior to its first flight. Those who already own drones must register them before February 19th, 2016. Failure to do so carries civil penalties of up to $27,500 or criminal penalties of up to $250,000 and three years in prison. The new ruling applies to all unmanned aircrafts between 0.55 and 55 lbs.
Though the mandate is practical, it is also part of a broader effort helping drone hobbyists think of themselves as aviators. Since drones are unmanned, many fail to realize they require the same attention to safety as do commercial airplanes and helicopters. ”Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiasts are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility,” states Anthony Foxx, U.S. secretary of transportation. He supports this development as a way to encourage safe drone use and promote a community of thoughtful innovation in the American aviation world: “I’m excited to welcome these new aviators into the culture of safety and responsibility that defines American innovation,” Foxx says.
Registration carries a $5 fee, which has led to some uproar in the consumer drone community: “The $5 fee to cover administrative costs may prevent users from registering for both convenience and cost, especially in the case of small toy-like UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicle],” reads a statement from the Small UAV Coalition, a drone advocacy group including purveyors and manufacturers. To encourage speedy registration, this fee is being waived for the first 30 days of the program.
Registrants will be required to provide their name, home address, and email address. Online registration requires drone pilots be 13 years of age or older; so far, there is no word on whether younger participants can register drones via snail mail. On successful registration, they will be provided with a unique drone ID number that must be displayed on the aircraft. Though registration will not be open until December 21st, individuals can start the process by visiting www.faa.gov, where they’ll also find plenty of information about being a successful and responsible hobbyist aviator.
David Milberg is an investment banker from NYC.