The U.S. government will start requiring owners of consumer drones to register their aircraft. The move, which has been expected, comes shortly before thousands of drones are expected to be given as holiday gifts.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which is responsible for aircraft registration, has rushed to bring in the rule as an increasing number of aircraft pilots report near-misses with consumer drones being flown illegally.
Under present rules, drones must remain under 400 feet in altitude, within line of sight of the operator, more than five miles from airports and away from groups of people, stadiums and major sporting events.
But that’s not always happening.
Under the new rule, drones weighing between 0.55 lbs (250 grams) and 55 lbs (25kgs) will need to be registered. Upon competition, owners will receive a certificate and a registration number that needs to be marked on the drone.
In theory, law enforcement would be able to identify an illegally flown drone from the number, but the procedure appears to be more about bringing drone pilots into the aviation ecosystem.
The FAA said the rules are intended to encourage drone operators to realize that they are pilots and have the same safety responsibilities as pilots of manned aircraft.
The registration website will go live on Dec. 21 and anyone purchasing a drone from that date will be required to register before their first flight. People who have purchased drones prior to that date have until Feb. 19, 2016, to register.
Registration will require a name, home address and email address and will cost $5. It will be free during the first 30 days of the system to encourage early participation, the FAA said.
As for the teeth of the regulation, the FAA can apply civil penalties of up to $27,500 or criminal penalties of up to $250,000 and three years in prison for noncompliance.
When the FAA said in October that it was planning a registration process, it brought together a group representing drone users and manufacturers to come up with proposals for the system. The rules announced on Monday take on several of the group’s recommendations.
The agency has also been criticized for coming up with new regulations after the 2012 FAA reauthorization act specifically prevented the FAA from imposing new rules on aviation hobbyists. The FAA said on Monday that the drone regulation proposal didn’t constitute a new rule because its aircraft registration system has been in operation for a long time.