PREPARE FOR TAKEOFF: FAA Launches Drone Registration Rules

Flying remote-controlled airplanes was much easier years ago.  My brother and I had only two simple rules.

The first was that we could never land in the Maguires’ yard.  The Maguires’ dog Shultz, an extremely large and vicious German Shepard (at least in the eyes of two small, young boys), patrolled their yard for intruders.  His large, gnashing, canine teeth kept most neighborhood children at bay.

Any RC airplane that inadvertently crash landed in the Maguires’ yard within the length of chain that restrained him became Shultz’s new chew toy.

The second rule was similar – never let your plane land in the Powell yard.  Mr. Powell was a grumpy, old man who took meticulous care of his yard.  Other children in the neighborhood reported seeing him float over his yard while mowing so that his own feet would never touch the perfectly manicured lawn.

Crash landing in the Powell yard meant losing the airplane.  Mr. Powell was twice as vicious as Shultz, and he had no leash.

The world has changed since the early 1970s.  We no longer fly remote-controlled airplanes, but rather Unmanned Aircraft Systems (or more popularly, drones) fly the sky, governed by the newly adopted rules imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  Initially, the FAA claimed it would not monitor recreational or hobbyist use of drones.  But with the increase in “incidents” of drones flying near aircraft, the FAA imposed new rules for registration of all recreational and hobbyist drones, effective December 21, 2015.  The law was implemented at this time, without notice and comment procedures, for “good cause” just in time to meet the holiday rush.  Hundreds of thousands of drones are expected to be sold this year, many of them as holiday gifts.  With the market being flooded with drones, the FAA bills the registration process as an opportunity to educate users about airspace rules and to assure that all users are accountable to the public for flying responsibly.

The new rules require registration of all drones weighing between 0.55 pounds (the weight of about 2 sticks of butter) to 55 pounds, which includes any added equipment.  If a drone was operated prior to the effective date of the rules on December 21, 2015, the operator must register the drone by February 19, 2016.  If the drone has not been operated prior to the effective date of the rules, it must be registered prior to its first outdoor flight.

Registration can be on the traditional paper-based system that the FAA uses, or it may be accomplished on the new, streamlined, web-based system that will be available on December 21, 2015.  Anyone using the web-based system must be 13 years or older and can enter the required information on the website at www.faa.gov/uas/registration.  The relatively simple registration process requires a name, home address, mailing address and email address.  Upon entering the information and paying the fee, a Certificate of Aircraft Registration will be immediately sent to the registrant providing a unique identification number.  This Certificate, much like a driver’s license, must be carried by the operator while flying the drone.  In addition, the ID number must be clearly marked on the aircraft where it can be readily accessible.  Permanent markers, stickers, or etchings satisfy the requirement.  Hobbyists or recreational users of drones are only required to register once, and the same identification number may be used on all drones owned by the registrant.

The modest $5.00 registration fee will be waived by the FAA in order to encourage registration, but you must act quickly.  The FAA will waive the fee only through January 21, 2016.

The registration lasts for 3 years, at which time the payment of another $5.00 renews the Certificate.  Unfortunately, the FAA does not anticipate waiving those renewal fees.

For those intent on using their drones for commercial or business purposes, online registration will not be available at this time.  The FAA does anticipate that online commercial registration will be available in Spring 2016, but until then, the tried and true paper application continues to serve the purpose.

Registration of a drone does not relieve the registrant from complying with the operating rules established by the FAA.  In very short summary, drones must be operated below 400 feet above ground level and clear of airports, stadiums and other public gatherings.  An operator would be wise to review the operating requirements governing drone use on the FAA website at www.faa.gov/uas/faq.

Failure to register a drone brings substantial penalties authorized by the FAA.  Civil penalties up to $27,500 may be imposed.  In addition, criminal penalties of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 3 years may be imposed on the unwary operator.

With teeth like that, the FAA makes Shultz look like a puppy.  The question remains whether the FAA will be restrained by a leash.

This article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended as or a substitute for legal advice. Should you have a question about this topic please contact attorney John A. Feichtel of Saidis, Sullivan & Rogers. The attorneys at Saidis, Sullivan & Rogers are skilled in a variety of practice areas, including business, real estate, estate planning, litigation and family law. To learn more about Saidis, Sullivan & Rogers and their attorneys visit us at www.ssr-attorneys.com.