FAA says recreational drones will have to be registered

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The federal government issued new rules Monday for drones, saying all of the devices being used for recreational purposes that meet certain weight restrictions, must be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration.

The announcement comes as hundreds of thousands of drones are expected to be purchased this holiday season, and the Federal Aviation Administration continues to be concerned over their potential to interfere with larger airplanes.

“Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiast are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in an FAA news release. “Registration gives us an opportunity to work with these users to operate their unmanned aircraft safely."

It also gives the agency the chance to track down the owners of drones that might be involved in an accident of some sort.

The main points:

  • Registration is required for individual recreational or hobby users, for drones that weigh between .55 pound and 55 pounds, including payloads like cameras.
  • It costs $5 and is good for three years. But the fee is being waived for the first month, from Dec. 21, 2015 to Jan 20, 2016.
  • Registration can be done online on the FAA's website.
  • People who purchased their drone before Dec. 21, 2015 will have 60 days - until Feb. 19 - to register.
  • People who get drones after Dec. 21, 2015 have to register their device before they fly it outdoors for the first time. 
  • Penalties for failing to register include civil fines up to $27,500. Criminal penalties include fines of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.

More details are available from this FAQ from the FAA.

What drone owners think

Reaction among drone owners is mixed. Some say it's an overreach by the federal government.

News Cut blogger Bob Collins at MPR News says many drone hobbyists won't bother to register, since it's not likely the FAA is going to be able to enforce the rule.

But others say the rules are necessary to promote safety, especially as the number of drones continues to grow.

Safety concerns

One concern of the FAA is that drones could be sucked into an aircraft engine or damage an aircraft in flight, as sometimes happens with birds, and cause a crash, the Associated Press reports.

It’s also worried about instances where the operator loses control over the drone and it flies away, collides with something or crashes to the ground.

In January, for example, an out-of-control drone crashed on the White House lawn, illustrating the risk.

A report issued just last week said there were 241 near collisions between drones and commercial aircraft in a two-year period that ended in September 2015, FOX News reports, including 28 incidents in which pilots had to veer out of the way.

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