After a year in which errant drones have crash-landed on the White House lawn, knocked out power in West Hollywood and hampered wildfire fighting in Northern California, on Monday the Federal Aviation Association announced new rules that will require almost all drone owners to register in a national database starting on December 21.
In other words, if you're anticipating a drone for Christmas this year, don't expect to fly it straight out of the box.
The FAA's hope is to create some sense of accountability for remote operators of recreational drones. After a drone flew into a West Hollywood power line and caused a three-hour blackout for more than 700 people, for example, bits of the drone were found on scene by investigators, but there was no trace of the identity of its clearly klutzy pilot.
The FAA will require drone owners to submit their names, home addresses and email addresses to its database before flying, which the agency hopes will allow law enforcement to more easily track misbehaving drones back to their owners and nudge them to be more responsible while piloting.
“Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiast are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.
The agency rushed to establish regulations before Christmas, for which the Consumer Electronics Association predicted 700,000 drones will be sold.
Drone operators must register drones that weigh between half a pound and 55 pounds. The registration website goes live December 21, with a free 30-day period to register for a three-year certificate. Those that owned drones of that size prior to December 21 will be required to register them by February 19.
And penalties for the either lazy or disobedient that fail to register will be steep: the FAA said drone owners that don't register face civil and criminal penalties that could land them to $250,000 in fines or three years in jail. The regulation stems from an old FAA regulation that applies to any aircraft not used to provide air transportation.
So, since you could get slapped with jail time or a $250,000 fine for your little half-pound hobby drone, you'll probably want to register. This is where you will need to go to register your drone: www.faa.gov/uas/registration.
Some have found the idea of requiring drone registration to be more than a little unsavory, raising questions of whether the government might eventually prevent some people from purchasing drones or even seize them.
But the majority of drone enthusiasts don't view some form of regulation as a bad thing. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group representing the drone industry, has been generally supportive of establishing rules in order to crack down on bad actors. The FAA's rules generally followed the recommendations of a task force that included both drone makers and drone hobbyist groups.
With anonymously piloted drones knocking out powerlines and interfering with firefighters trying to do their job it seems necessary for drone owners — like gun owners — to be held accountable for their actions.