Kids large and small who get a drone underneath the Christmas tree will have to register the gift with the Federal Aviation Administration.
The FAA unveiled its much-anticipated drone registration program Monday — just in time for the holiday rush — saying that anyone who buys an unmanned aerial vehicle will be required to register them starting Dec. 21. The registration will come with a $5 fee, however the agency is waiving it during the first 30 days to encourage compliance.
The registration requirement will cover everything but the smallest aircraft. Anything weighing more than half a pound, but under 55 pounds, must be registered and identified so the agency can track down a pilot who does something wrong — like flying it in restricted airspace or crashing it.
The Consumer Electronics Association predicts that 700,000 drones will be sold by year’s end.
“We expect hundreds of thousands of model unmanned aircraft will be purchased this holiday season,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta in a prepared 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.”
The FAA says that tighter regulations on drones are needed because the number of sightings by airplane pilots has soared. More than 750 drones were spotted nationwide from November 2014 to August 2015, and pilots reported seeing some flying as high as 10,000 feet.
After waiting for weeks to see what kind of registration program the FAA would announce, one area drone pilot said the new rules simply don’t fly with him.
“The whole thing is absurd,” said Ed Couch of North Richland Hills, a pilot and model plane enthusiast. “It doesn’t solve the problem. That is the sad part of it. It won’t prohibit anybody who wants to do mischief.”
The federal government has been working on a strategy for drones since Congress passed the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which includes a special rule for model aircraft. The agency has come up with basic rules such as not flying within 5 miles of an airport, not flying over 400 feet and not buzzing around stadiums and such.
More complete regulations are expected sometime next year, including keeping the drone within “visual line of sight” without the aid of a camera or other devices.
In the meantime, an FAA task force in November recommended that new owners get an identification number for any UAV that weighs more than half a pound by registering online.
Under the program announced Monday, owners using model aircraft for hobby or recreation have to register once and may use the same ID number for all of their model aircraft. The registration would be valid for three years.
Registrants would have to provide their name, home address and email address. Upon completion, the web application will generate a Certificate of Aircraft Registration/Proof of Ownership. Any aircraft bought before Dec. 21 must check in with the FAA by Feb. 19. Anyone registering after Dec. 21 must register before their first outdoor flight.
Owners using this system must be 13 years or older. If pilots don’t comply, the FAA has existing laws to take enforcement action and the task force recommended that the FAA establish a clear and proportional penalty framework.
The FAA posted a drone registration question and answer page on its website Monday at http://www.faa.gov/uas/registration/faqs/.
The FAA has been cracking down on those flying drones in a careless and reckless manner.
In June, Robert Eddelman agreed to pay a $1,000 fine after he crashed one quadcopter drone onto the roof of the AT&T Stadium and then flew a second drone over Globe Life Park, Six Flags Over Texas, Hurricane Harbor as well as downtown Dallas. Both flights took place in June 2014.
“This is a good example of how we don’t want people to fly,” Cade Miller, the FAA attorney in Fort Worth who handled the Eddelman case, told the Star-Telegram earlier this month, saying it’s a case study for why more regulation is needed.
Couch, who will register his drones, has said that the government’s efforts to register drones will be as successful as its efforts to register guns. He said the answer is education.
“There are people out there trying to fly this stuff that have no business doing it,” Couch said.
Jim Lane, an attorney and pilot, said he supports the FAA because every 13-year-old will have mom and dad buying them a drone instead of a bicycle. But he also has his doubts.
“The FAA works hard and their mission is air safety. But I worry about how in the world, with their limited resources, they’ll ever be able to enforce any kind of enforcement action,” Lane said. “I don’t see the FAA having the resources to do it.”