A new FAA rule requiring drone users to register their sUAS was released this week (see Press Release – “FAA Announces Small UAS Registration Rule”) FAA officials told the media that they remain hopeful drone users will comply. “Unmanned aircraft operators are aviators,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, on a conference call. “And with that title comes a great deal of responsibility.” He added: “My message to unmanned aircraft operators is pretty simple: It is in your best interest to register early ...This is one step we’re taking, but it’s not the only step the government will take when it comes to the safe integration of these technologies. We reserve the right to ratchet up or down depending on circumstances as they continue to evolve.” The new rule applies to drones weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds.

The new online registration system, which will open next Monday, Dec. 21, requires users to enter a name, address, email address and credit card number. The registration fee will be $5 for three years, and the same registration number can be used for any number of UAS. The number must be displayed on each drone. Users who currently own UAS or buy them before Dec. 21 must register by Feb. 21, 2016. On and after Dec. 21, owners must register before their first flight outdoors. The registration fee is waived for the first 30 days after the registry opens; however, users still must enter a credit card or debit card number, which will be charged the fee, and then it will later be refunded. Users age 13 and up can register on their own; younger users must have an adult register for them.

Education is a paramount goal of the registration system, said FAA deputy administrator Roger Whitaker. Registration provides the FAA with an opportunity to ensure that operators know the rules. The UAS must be operated only below 400 feet, within sight of the operator at all times; they must stay away from manned aircraft, never fly over crowds or events, and if flying within 5 miles of an airport, the operator must contact the airport first. “We’ll be pushing out information via faa.gov, Facebook, and Twitter,” Whitaker said. Whitaker also said the FAA is working closely with industry partners to get the word out to users about their responsibilities. Many manufacturers will include information about registration at point of sale. The FAA has several enforcement options, including civil penalties and criminal penalties of up to three years in jail. “Our real challenge is to get users to understand the rules and comply,” Whitaker said.

Drones still are limited to use only for hobby or recreation, the FAA said, but by next spring they plan to offer “enhancements” to the online system that will allow owners to register drones for use in connection with a business. The rule released today is an “Interim Final Rule,” which means it is effective immediately upon publication; however, the FAA still will accept comments on the rule and may alter it if the FAA sees a need to do so.