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.
FAA Announced Its Small Drone Registration Rules
In November, Amazon unveiled a new drone prototype aircraft for its still-in-development Prime Air package delivery system, this time with a model that takes off and lands vertically but flies on a horizontal flight path to its destination. The drone design is a flat-looking flying machine with a triple rudder tail and three landing wheels. Its engine is mounted at the rear in the center of the vertical rudders.
Amazon’s drone program is aimed at providing package deliveries of less than five pounds to consumers in less than 30 minutes in select locations. The drones will fly under 400 feet in altitude, have “sense and avoid” capabilities to stay away from aircraft and other obstacles, and be able to be operated up to distances of 10 miles or more, according to Amazon. Amazon has been looking at drone deliveries as a way of offering faster service to customers while also saving money, compared with the more costly human-based delivery systems.
The FAA has been working since 2012 to develop rules and procedures for the commercial use of drones in the United States. In June, an FAA spokesman said the agency is working to have drone regulations in place by mid-2016. Now, the agency has shortened that timeline, saying it will be next April or so. The regulations will govern drone flights and keep them safely away from commercial and private aircraft traffic as well as pedestrians and other hazards on the ground.
Walmart also recently began to seek permission from the FAA to test-fly package delivery drones outdoors in hopes that it can put together a method to zoom packages to consumers in the future. The company has applied to the FAA for approval of proposals to provide package home delivery, curbside pickup and warehouse inventory checking as it looks to find new ways of shipping purchases to consumers.