FAA gets tough on drones with mandatory UAV registration

Drone pilots in the US have until February 19, 2016 to register their aircraft, with the FAA announcing mandatory licensing with fines or even prison time for those who refuse. The database, which opened its digital doors today, is the Federal Aviation Administration's response to the huge upswing in UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) ownership, with increasingly capable drones able to travel long distances, carry payloads, and potentially interfere with security forces or commercial aviation.

It means, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement today, that drone pilots need to recognize that there are obligations when you take to the skies.

"Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiast are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility," Foxx said. "Registration gives us an opportunity to work with these users to operate their unmanned aircraft safely."

Under the new rules, any drone or unmanned aircraft weighing more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) but less than 55 pounds (approximately 25 kilograms) must be registered. That weight bracket includes anything the drone might be carrying, such as a camera.

Any UAV owner who has flown a drone as a "model aircraft" before December 21, 2015, must now register on the FAA's new website. That has to be completed before February 19, 2016.

Those buying a new drone after December 21st, however, must register prior to their first flight outdoors.

For those concerned about privacy, the registration process itself is fairly low-key. Name, address, and email address are required, and registering pilots must be over 13 years of age.

The system generates a unique identification number which covers every drone operated by the pilot, assuming they're used for hobby and recreational use, and which must be displayed on the drone. The pilot must carry proof of registration too, though that can be kept electronically on your phone or tablet. Each registration lasts for three years, at which point it has to be renewed.

Registration itself is going to cost $5, though the FAA is waiving fees until January 20, 2016, in the hope of encouraging drone owners to sign up promptly. It's worth noting that you'll still need a credit card even in that thirty day period, since the FAA uses it as an authentication system; a refund will follow on afterwards.

Toy drones might be commonplace, but the potential sanctions for those operating an unregistered UAV are stiff. The FAA has the right to apply civil penalties that could reach as high as $27,500, and the door is open to criminal sanctions too.

Those could hit fines of up to $250,000 and even include up to three years of prison time.

For businesses wanting to use a drone for commercial purposes, such as making small deliveries or doing surveillance or mapping, the existing paper-based process still applies. However, the FAA says that eventually that too will be rolled into the electronic system, likely in the spring of next year.

SOURCE FAA Drone Registration