Registration Begins December 21st
Back in November, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced their intent to see a Unmanned Aerial Systems registration requirement. It would require all unmanned aircraft (including drones, quadcopter, multi-rotors, and airplanes) be registered with the federal government. The system was intended to educate the public on the safe way to enjoy these types of aircraft, and enforce accountability on those that don't comply with those safety procedures and requirements.
On December 14th, that intent became reality when the FAA formally announced the final regulation.
The Registration Requirements
The new registration policy requires all recreational hobbyists to register their aircraft if all of the following things are true:
- The aircraft's flying weight is between 0.55lbs (8.8oz) and 55lbs.
- The aircraft will be flown outdoors.
This applies to all radio control drones, helicopters, quadcopters, multi-rotors, and airplanes that meet those conditions. I've included a table including many of the current aircraft we carry and whether or not it would require registration, at the bottom of this page. Currently, this registration process is only open to recreational hobbyists; corporations and other business entities are not eligible for this program at this time, since it's not currently legal for commercial entities to operate UASs in the United States without a lengthy and involved Section 333 exemption. The outdoors requirement is because the FAA does not have the authority to regulate flight within buildings, so if you've got something you're going to keep inside, you're clear from the registration requirement.
The penalties for not registering are as high as $250,000 and up to three years in jail.
The way registration works appears to be similar to the way the AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics) membership does. A UAS pilot is required to register him or herself with the government, providing her complete name, physical address, mailing address, and an email address. Once this is done, the FAA will issue the pilot a unique registration number that must appear on all aircraft that meet the above criteria. There is no need to register an individual aircraft with the government, as the same registration number can be used on all aircraft owned by the pilot.
Registration will cost $5 per person, and the Certificate of Registration will be valid for three years before requiring renewal. You will also be required to present proof of registration while operating if asked by law enforcement.
It's worth noting that even if you're an AMA registered pilot, that does not prevent you from this requirement. Regardless to an individual's stance with any other sanctioning body, the FAA's registration requirement is not meet until you actually register with the FAA. So all AMA pilots need to register too, along with everyone else. Being an AMA member is not a free pass on this.
If you register before January 20th, 2016, the FAA is waiving the $5 fee in an effort to encourage more pilots to get registered quickly. All UAS pilots that purchased or built an eligible aircraft before December 21, 2015 must be registered by February 19, 2016. The penalties for not registering are severe; the FAA can assess civil penalties as high as $27,500, and criminal penalties can include fines as high as $250,000 and up to three years in jail.
Registration is performed on the FAA's UAS Registration Webpage, and should be quick and convenient. You can learn more about the law and its implications at the FAA's UAS Registration FAQ page — a resource I think everyone should read.
As encounters between drones and passenger aircraft increase, it was obvious that something had to be done to prevent a possible tragedy; while the AMA's guidelines for their members was a good start, it wasn't enough — largely because many new pilots aren't joining the AMA. It's worth noting that while the AMA's pilots have been without any major incident in the last eight decades, the recent popularity explosion that drones have appreciated injected the nation’s airspace with many more aircraft than ever before, and the chances for incident have risen significantly.
I applaud the FAA for taking steps to keep everyone safe, and doing so in such a way as to not interfere with the enjoyment hundreds of thousands of UAS pilots get from taking flight. I think the goals the FAA and DOT laid out from the get-go were right on the money, and this requirement should both increase the public awareness of what is and isn't safe to do with model aircraft, as well as provide ample motivation to act in accordance with the law. As someone who's livelihood relies, in part, on the sale of model aircraft of all kinds, the last thing I want to see is either a huge national tragedy that calls into question everyone's ability to enjoy R/C flight, or a crackdown on the sale of model aircraft so heavy-handed that it turns potential pilots away from the hobby. I believe the FAA's approach walks the line between these two extremes, and provided that the word gets out to the pilots that have both purchased model aircraft in the past, or buy them in the future, the registration law should work as intended.
There's no excuse to not register your aircraft.
I know there will be detractors of this new law, and as this is the land of free, those people are entitled to their opinions. They are not, however, entitled to put other people in danger because of their actions. I am sure there will be those that refuse to register their aircraft for whatever reason, and while I hope that those people come to their senses before anyone gets fined or put in jail, I hope that those found in violation of this new law will be punished to the fullest extent of it. The fee is minimal, the registration process is promised to take less time than charging your battery for the first flight, and doing so not only educates you on the things you absolutely need to know to be safe, but also puts you on the right side of the law. There's no excuse to not register your aircraft.
It's a brave new world. Technology is quickly outpacing even our wildest dreams. Usually government is behind the curve on these things, but the dangers reckless behavior presents to real, everyday people is a good reason for the FAA and DOT to act swiftly and in accordance with their mandate of keeping the skies safe for everyone. We encourage everyone whose model aircraft meets the criteria established by the government to register themselves. Learn about your hobby. Set a good example for new pilots. Show the world that model aircraft enthusiasts take this seriously; be an ambassador of the hobby and watch its popularity soar!