Got a Drone? Get it Registered
As of December 21, 2015, the FAA is requiring owners to register their drones. Here are the details.
Neglecting to register your drone comes with a price.
There's been much discussion about the regulation of drones, but now the first step toward that regulation has arrived: as of December 21st, 2015, the FAA requires that drones weighing over .55 lbs (250) must be officially registered. If your drone weighs less than 55 lbs (25 kg), the process can be completed online. However, if you intend on operating your drone outside the US, use it for commercial purposes or for anything besides amusement, or if it weighs more than 55 lbs, the process needs to be completed through the perenially efficient method of paper registration.
Registration is $5 and lasts for 3 years, but if you register before January 20th, 2016, the $5 registration fee will be refunded. The FAA's site also provides a list of example aircraft that are exempt from the registration process, including (thankfully) Millennium Falcons:
Rebels rejoice: your Millennium Falcon may continue skirting the law.
The registration process is an attempt to monitor the operation of manless aircraft for security and safety purposes. It's a necessary step in integrating drones into increasingly crowded skies. It's also timely: this Christmas, drones were massively popular, which means thousands of new drone operators will be sending their flying ships into the air with potentially dangerous results. Besides the possibility of the drones causing injury or property damage, there are also concerns about privacy. Drones allow anonymous flying cameras to be operated by anyone with the cash to buy one. They've already been used to score pictures of celebrities and fly over secured, private areas; the potential for their role in nefarious schemes is staggering.
Drones are already ubiquitous on SoCal beaches.
Neglecting to register a drone could cost owners up to $27,000 in civil penalties. According to the FAA, "Criminal penalties include fines of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years." So while the drones may be considered toys, the penalties for operating them unregistered aren't something to play with.
There are problems with the new system though: once registered, a drone operator is emailed a certificate and given a number to apply to the drone using any method (Sharpie, label, etc.). That number could then be used to track the owner. Of course, that only works if the drone is captured or falls: it would be difficult, if not impossible, to read the registration number on the side of a flying drone. Then there's the matter of criminals being criminals because they're unwilling to follow laws in the first place--it's highly unlikely they'd be intimidated at the threat of a fine enough to comply with the registration process.
Maintaining and updating the registration numbers will also be a challenge. It's doubtful owners selling their drones would think to update their ownership status on the drone registration database. Even letting a friend borrow a drone is problematic; owners are expected to print out the emailed certificate and lend it to the person borrowing the drone. It's a clunky system with many, many variables.
But, flawed as it is, the registration process is what the FAA is sticking with until it agrees on more concrete regulation. And it's better than nothing.