The Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Transportation announced today interim final rules (available to read in full here) regarding registration of small unmanned aircraft (“UAS”) weighing over 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds. These new rules will take effect on December 21, 2015.

Many of these rules were recommended by a report issued by a 25-member Registration Task Force in November of this year (available here). In a press release announcing the new rules, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is quoted as saying “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.”

The rules require all existing operators of hobby or recreational UAS to register them by February 19th, 2015. Any UAS purchased after the rules take effect will have to be registered prior to its first flight outdoors. Registration can be done through a paper-based process or an online portal (available here). Owners will need to certify that they are at least 13 years of age and pay a $5.00 registration fee. To encourage quick registration, this fee will be waived for the first 30 days (from December 21, 2015 until January 20, 2015). Registration will be valid for three years.

The online registration system only supports the registration of small UAS used for hobby or recreation, but the FAA is expected to roll out a similar streamlined commercial registration process by the spring of 2016. Owners of hobby or recreation UAS will be given a single identification number which can be used for all their UAS and which “provides a simpler method for marking small unmanned aircraft that is more appropriate for these aircraft.”

In the executive summary of the new rules, the FAA explains “The estimate for 2015 sales indicates that 1.6 million small unmanned aircraft intended to be used as model aircraft are expected to be sold this year (including approximately 50 percent of that total during the fourth quarter of 2015).” The FAA hopes that registration will provide both the means to quickly identify small UAS if an accident occurs, and also provide an immediate and direct opportunity for education of new and existing UAS owners.