Back in October, Americans learned that we were going to have to register our drones this holiday season, but the details were still up in the air until today.
If you're a hobbyist in the United States who pilots an unmanned recreational aircraft that weighs half a pound, you're going to need to register it with the federal government online at faa.gov/uas/registration. The FAA says this website will be operational on Dec. 21, the same day the new rule goes into effect.
The regulation will include the vast majority of the 1.6 million small consumer drones that the FAA estimates will be sold in 2015 -- along with the hundreds of thousands of other drones that people already own.
“Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiast are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility,” said United States Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a prepared statement. “Registration gives us an opportunity to work with these users to operate their unmanned aircraft safely. I’m excited to welcome these new aviators into the culture of safety and responsibility that defines American innovation.”
The new requirements mostly follow the recommendations of the public-private drone task force convened this fall to advise the government on how to implement a drone registry.
Here are some of the highlights from the document the FAA released Monday:
1) If your drone weighs more than 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds, including payloads, you have to register it before operating it.
2) You'll need to provide your name, home address and an email.
3) If you owned and operated a drone prior to Dec. 21, you must register on the website no later than Feb. 19, 2016.
4) Registering your drone will cost $5 (departing from the task force recommendations) but the FAA will waive the fee for the first 30 days to encourage as many people as possible to register quickly. After Jan. 20, you'll need to pay.
5) Once you complete the drone registration process, the web app will give you a registration certificate and a proof of ownership with a unique identification number that must be marked on the drone. Your registration will be valid for three years. The FAA provided no timeline on how fast the registration process will take.
6) You only have to register as a drone operator once. You can use the same identification number for all of your drones.
7) You need to be at least 13 years old to register a drone.
8) This registration process only applies to drones used for hobbies and recreational purposes. In September, the FAA missed a deadline for proposing regulations for commercial drones. Expect those sometime in 2016.
Unlike the normal rulemaking process, in which an agency solicits public comments on an interim final rule after the document is published in the Federal Register, the FAA decided it was "contrary to the public interest to proceed with further notice and comment rulemaking regarding aircraft registration for small unmanned aircraft."
The FAA cited "increasing reports and incidents of unsafe incidents, rapid proliferation of both commercial and model aircraft operators, and the resulting increased risk" and the need for the agency to "link the expected number of new unmanned aircraft to their owners and educate these new owners prior to commencing operations" as justifications for not taking more comments.
Unless the FAA follows a key recommendation of the task force to build the drone registry in a way that distributes the crush of visitors, however, this website could be a huge headache for consumers who want to get into the air on Christmas Day. The report recommended that the agency use an application programming interface instead of creating a online bottleneck for drone registration.
“We expect hundreds of thousands of model unmanned aircraft will be purchased this holiday season,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, in a statement. “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.”
Here's hoping the agency gets it right. The short timelines to do so aren't promising.
CORRECTION: An earlier version said the FAA would consider further public comment on the interim final rule. The article has been edited to note that the FAA has decided to move ahead without additional comment.