The FAA’s drone task force has just announced the fruits of its labor, which have been ripening for the past two months. Here’s the deal: Starting December 21, you’ll have to register your unmanned aircraft with the FAA online or on paper. Depending on what you fly, that’s a slight inconvenience and $5 a UAV.
Why? Welp, here’s the U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a press release, going full Uncle Ben:
“Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiast are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility.”
The FAA makes a distinction between model aircraft aviators and everybody else, which is a matter of fees. For a fleet of exclusively “model aircraft,” that’s a single fee of $5 every three years; if you don’t use them as “model aircraft” — a model aicraft being something that flies, stays within line of sight, and is part of a hobby or recreation — that’s $5 per drone. From December 21 until January, though, the fee is waived.
In the official, 211-page rule book there’s a lot to parse. Some of the juiciest bits — if they can truly be called juicy — stem from the open comment period. For instance, “an individual commenter said a threshold weight of two pounds is ‘entirely reasonable’ because crows weigh between 0.7 and 2.6 pounds.” Under the FAA rule, devices between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds must be registered. On the other hand, as another commenter pointed out, “technology is advancing to enable a single control station to operate multiple UAS in a coordinate way, and a ‘swarm’ of otherwise light-weight UAS would be dangerous if flown into the path of a full-scale aircraft.” If the FAA has a response to swarms, it didn’t include it in the rules.
There will be fines if the FAA catches you flying without a labeled and registered drone. If registration makes drone operation safer, of course, will be the experiment that plays out in 2016. Here’s the online system, where you’ll pony up your name, address, and email. It will spit out a registration number for you to slap on your aircraft.