FAA releases drone registration rules

Private owners of small unmanned aircraft must register their names, physical and email addresses via an online database under new rules issued by the FAA.

Shutterstock image (by concept w): drone flying into the sunset.

Private owners of small unmanned aerial systems are required to begin registering the drones with the government, according to new Federal Aviation Administration rules released on Dec. 14.

The agency has been working double-time to get the registration process set up before an expected onslaught of what FAA Administrator Michael Huerta has said could be more than half a million of the aircraft purchased for the holidays.

FAA officials said they needed to move quickly because of increasing reports in 2015 of drones interfering with civilian aviation and other airborne activity, including drones operating near airports, at high altitudes or in the vicinity of emergency response aircraft.

Beginning Dec. 21, the FAA will institute a simple, web-based registration system that will issue a single identification number to each registrant to cover all the unmanned aircraft owned by that person. Registrants must be at least 13 years old.

The registration is good for three years and costs $5 per person, although the agency said it is waiving the fee for the first 30 days to encourage people to sign up. The fee is based on estimated costs to develop and maintain the registry, and officials said they will adjust the fee based on the actual costs associated with the system.

The FAA estimated that the system will cost the government about $56 million through 2020. Using the paper-based system that applies to larger commercial drones for recreational owners would have cost $383 million.The data collected via the site will include the owner's name, physical address and email address, as well as the aircraft's manufacturer, model name and, in some cases, serial number. Officials said that in the future, they might "require use of serial number for aircraft marking purposes in place of an FAA-issued registration number."

A public/private task force charged with making recommendations to the FAA for a registration system advocated against collecting owners' email addresses and drone serial numbers.

In return for the fee and information, the FAA said the system will generate a Certificate of Aircraft Registration/Proof of Ownership that will include a unique identification number that must be marked on all the drones owned by that registrant.

The public can search the information in the database but only by registration number, which will bring up a corresponding name and address for the registrant. The FAA said the database will not be searchable by name or address.

Applicants can pay with credit or debit card on the site, making the process faster than paper-based registration. Officials said they would still allow paper-based payments for applicants who do not have credit cards.

The FAA developed the registration system in accordance with federal IT security requirements, including the Federal Information Security Management Act. Only users with a valid email address and password can access the system, which also uses digital certificates and encrypts all information in the system. FAA officials said law enforcement agencies will have access to information to help identify aircraft that are involved in incidents.

The system will allow for multiple entry points via the API, which will enable the agency to add new capabilities in the future, officials said. For instance, it would allow a manufacturer or trade organization to develop an application that can register its customers or members by submitting information directly to the FAA database on their behalf.

The agency said an online registration process for business operators of unmanned aircraft is slated to be released next spring.

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