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By FAA decree, all current drone owners must register with the government before February 19

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Image used with permission by copyright holder
Just a hair over a half a pound. That’s the weight restriction the Federal Aviation Administration chose for its upcoming drone registration requirement set to officially kick in December 21. Essentially, the new rule forces owners of any unmanned aircraft weighing 0.55 lbs (or roughly two bars of soap) to pony up a small fee in order to prevent FAA fines and to continue to operate said drones within the scope of the new law. So unless your drone is nothing more than a paper airplane with rotors, the federal government requires you to register it before you fly.

Applied to all unmanned aircraft, the new rule affects the gamut of drone users, regardless of their experience or the number of aircrafts they own. However, the stipulation regarding when to actually register a drone differs slightly depending on when an aircraft was actually purchased. Any owner of a small unmanned aircraft (UAS) who’s operated the drone prior to December 21, 2015, has until February 19, 2016, to officially register. Those who purchase a drone after December 21, 2015 (i.e. all those getting a drone for Christmas) must completely register the craft before flying it for the first time.

“Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiasts are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility,” says U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a published press release. “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.”

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Understanding that the registration process is likely to chafe more people than it pleases, the FAA took the high road and decided to offer free drone registration to anyone who signs up in the first 30 days. Though registration is a mere $5 to complete, the FAA hopes its free sign-up period coaxes more people (especially those who buy/receive a drone during the holidays) into registering sooner rather than later. Registration also allows the administration to educate novice drone operators on the rules, regulations, and etiquette native to the UAS industry.

“We expect hundreds of thousands of model unmanned aircraft will be purchased this holiday season,” says FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “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.”

Despite its apparent good intentions, the FAA’s decision to implement mandatory registration ruffled a few feathers over at the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), who called the rule a disappointment. Citing the fact the FAA’s new requirement goes against what Congress intended in the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, the AMA calls a registration process an “unnecessary burden” for drone owners who’ve safely operated aircraft for decades.

Though it disagrees with the process, AMA executive director Dave Mathewson did say his organization understands new flyers “need to be educated” and that it will continue to partner with the FAA on its Know Before You Fly campaign. In a published press release stating its displeasure of the requirement, Mathewson states that similar education programs “are one of the best ways to ensure safety of our airspace.”

To officially register an unmanned aircraft, the FAA requires a person must be at least 13 years of age. Moreover, any person younger than the required age who operates a drone must have someone older than 13 register it for them. The fee — which as mentioned above is just $5 — covers the cost of registering any person’s entire fleet of hobby or recreation-specific drones and remains valid for three years. Currently, it only accepts registration of hobby or recreation-specific drones but plans on expanding its registration guidelines to unmanned aircraft associated with business by spring of 2016.

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