With some 700,000 hobby drones expected to arrive in homes this holiday season, the Federal Aviation Administration is looking to get a better handle on who is flying what.
On Monday, the FAA announced drone owners will need to register before they can fly. The policies shift follows a study that confirmed hundreds of close encounters between drones and manned aircraft. The federal government expects that the registry will facilitate distribution of legal and safety information about operating the hobby aircraft and will make it easier for the FAA to identify drone operators who violate those rules and potentially put aircraft at risk.
Most people who fly drones and model aircraft have little aviation experience, but they become pilots as soon as they start to fly. "They have the responsibility to fly safely, and there are rules and regulations that apply to them," Deputy FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker told the Associated Press.
The FAA currently receives more than 100 reports a month of drones flying near manned aircraft, commercial and private. Current rules prohibit any recreational aircraft from flying within five miles of an airport or higher than 400 feet, model airplanes and drones included.
As drones have become more affordable, their popularity has soared. Drone sales for 2015 are expected to top 1.6 million, with most coming around the holiday season and the end of the year.
“We expect hundreds of thousands of model unmanned aircraft will be purchased this holiday season,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta in a press release. “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.”
The new policy will affect all drones weighing between just over half a pound and 55 pounds, with the payload, including any attached cameras, included in the weight. Drone owners who are over 13 years old can register online and parents are expected to complete registration for younger children.
Drone owners who bought their aircraft before Dec. 21 will need to register by Feb. 19. Those who buy after that date will be required to register before their first outdoor flight. Registration costs will total $5, but those fees have been waived until Jan. 20 in anticipation of the large number drones expected to be given as gifts this month.
Model aircraft hobbyists will also be expected to register their crafts, a decision that has met some resistance.
According to the AP, the Muncie, Indiana-based Academy of Model Aeronautics, said registration is an "unnecessary burden for our more than 185,000 members who have been operating safely for decades."
This report includes material from the Associated Press.