FAA Announces Its Small Drone Registration Rules

Operators of drones between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds will be required to register their flying vehicles to legally operate them.

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Operators of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for hobby and recreational use are now required to register their devices with the Federal Aviation Administration to be able to legally operate drones that weigh between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds in U.S. airspaces.

The FAA announced the requirements on Dec. 14 and unveiled a Website where drone operators can submit their registrations.

Creating a process to register drone operators has been a goal of the FAA for several months as the agency looked to deal with what it called a growing problem of irresponsible drone use across the country. The FAA created an Unmanned Aircraft Systems Registration Task Force in October to tackle the issue. One of the key goals of the registration requirement is to allow the FAA to be able to identify the owners and operators of unmanned aircraft in U.S. airspace.

"Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiasts are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement after the registration rules were announced. "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."

Registration is a statutory requirement that applies to all aircraft, from small to large, the agency said in its statement.

"Under this rule, any owner of a small UAS who has previously operated an unmanned aircraft exclusively as a model aircraft prior to December 21, 2015, must register no later than February 19, 2016. Owners of any other UAS purchased for use as a model aircraft after December 21, 2015 must register before the first flight outdoors."

So far, the FAA's new online registration system does not yet support registration of small UASes used for business users. The first registrations will only be for hobby and recreational users. The FAA is developing enhancements that will allow online registrations for business users by the spring of 2016, according to the agency.

Hobbyist and recreational UAS owners can register through the online site or through a paper-based application. Registrants using the Internet process must be at least 13 years of age. Registrants must give their name, home address and email address to sign up. After completing their application, the registrants will receive a "Certificate of Aircraft Registration/Proof of Ownership" that will give them a unique identification number as a UAS owner, which must be marked on the aircraft, according to the FAA.

Hobby and recreational model aircraft users will be able to register once and use the same identification number for all of their models, the agency said. The registration is valid for three years.

The registration fee is being set at $5, but will be free for the first 30 days starting Dec. 21 to encourage users to sign up quickly, according to the agency. The free registrations will be available through Jan. 20, 2016.

The registrations will also apply to UASes that will be given as holiday gifts this month. The agency hopes to educate users of the devices about the registration requirements and about safe flight rules and regulations.

The FAA's drone task force included representatives from Google, Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, and a wide range of aviation and other groups.

A wide range of businesses, from e-retailer Amazon to agricultural businesses, photographers, energy production companies, news operations and others, have been clamoring for the ability to use drones for several years, but have been prevented from doing so until the FAA implements regulations to ensure their safe operation, according to earlier eWEEK stories. The companies have been arguing that delays in implementing drone rules in the United States have kept businesses from benefiting from cost savings and new revenue from their use.