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FAA announces drone registration process
With the holidays right around the corner, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) this week announced its mandatory registration process for owners of small unmanned aircraft (UAS) or drones. The FAA chose this time because it “expect[s] hundreds of thousands of model unmanned aircraft will be purchased this holiday season,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “Registration gives us the opportunity to educate these new airspace users before they fly so they know the airspace rules and understand they are accountable to the public for flying responsibly.”

Drones have continuously been in the news from privacy concerns where drones are flown over private property to high profile crashes on the White House lawn and into the stands during a U.S. Open tennis match. Accordingly, the issue of when and where “pilots” may fly their drones has been a topic of increasing public, legislative and regulatory debate. The FAA’s biggest concerns are the numerous close calls of drones narrowly missing aircraft and the more than 600 drones reported in the vicinity of airports. The latter has led to the developing and testing of systems that can detect and intercept drones that fly within five miles of any airport. With the 2015 sales estimates indicating 1.6 million drones sold this year (and over 50% of them sold in the fourth quarter), the FAA decided to act in order to be able to identify every aircraft and to educate novices.

Registration begins on December 21, 2015, and is a statutory requirement applying to all aircraft weighing more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) and less than 55 pounds (approx. 25 kilograms) including on-board attachments like cameras. In the spirit of the holiday season, and in an effort to encourage as many people as possible to register immediately, the $5 registration fee is waived for the first thirty days (from December 21, 2015, to January 20, 2016). Any owners of drones purchased after December 21 must register before their first outdoor flight.

Drone pilots may register either online or by mail. After completion, registrants will receive a Certificate of Aircraft Registration/Proof of Ownership that includes a unique identification number, which must then be marked on the aircraft. This identification number may be used on as many aircraft owned by each individual registrant.

Failure to register an aircraft may result in civil penalties up to $27,500 and in criminal penalties that include fines of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment of up to three years.

With the explosion in the popularity of drones, we can and should expect much more public debate and subsequent legislation and regulation. In fact, the FAA pointed out that the new rule only applies to recreational use of drones and not to those used for business purposes, for instance.


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