The days of unpacking a new drone and quickly taking it out for a maiden flight are long gone.
Now we have to register them first. Call them drones, multi-rotors, quadcopters, octocopters or hovercams, the U.S. government sees them all the same.
"Effective Dec. 21, 2015, anyone who owns a small unmanned aircraft of a certain weight must register with the Federal Aviation Administration's Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) registry before they fly outdoors ... People who do not register could face civil and criminal penalties," the FAA warns.
The FAA will charge a $5 registration fee, but that's better than paying $27,500 in fines and up to $250,000 in cases of criminal violations with up to three years in prison. For now, however, the FAA says it will rebate the $5 fee on drones registered before midnight EST on Jan. 20, 2016.
But not all drones have to be registered. The government only requires drones that weigh more than 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds to be registered. Nonetheless, that weight requirement pretty much includes all drones that aren't toys (and the ones that are toys aren't really that much fun to fly anyway). Meanwhile, drones that have already been flown before have until Feb. 19, 2016 to register.
For the rest of us brand-new drone operators, we should register our drones on the FAA's website. Surprisingly enough, the website is actually well-designed. It's not only easy on the eyes, but it's also quite an easy registration process – it's as simple as 1, 2, 3 and 4.
That's right. It's a four-step process that requires no more than 10 minutes of your time along with your credit card number. After logging into the FAA drone website with a mailing address, an email address and credit card information, the four-step process begins.
The initial step simply requires the user to acknowledge the FAA's Safety Guidance rules. These rules state that the drone operators agree to:
• Fly below 400 feet
• Fly within visual line of sight
• Fly with full knowledge of the FAA's airspace requirements
• Not fly directly over people
• Not fly over stadiums and sports events
• Not fly near emergency response efforts such as fires
• Not fly near aircraft, especially near airports
• Not fly under the influence (of course)
A simple tick in the box that means the user has read, understood and will follow the safety guidance rules completes the first step of the registration.
Succeeding steps include payment, review and pay and finally, confirmation. Basically, nothing new in today's world of e-commerce – the last steps are just like completing a drone order on Amazon.
Once all is said and done, and payment is cleared, the FAA will send an email with a spiffy certificate bearing the drone operator's name, date of issuance and date of expiration of the certificate, and of course, their Unmanned Aircraft Systems Certificate Number.
Fortunately, only one certificate is needed to fly multiple drones. So, if a person owns and flies more than one drone, they won't have to individually register each drone. Instead, the same UA Certificate Number can be used across multiple drones as long as each drone is labeled with that unique number on the outside of the drone or inside the drone's battery compartment.
The UA Certificate (or a copy of it) must be carried at all times should a drone operator decide to go out for some air time.
Paying $27,500 for flying a half-pound drone in the comfort and safety of our backyards sounds excessive to say the least, but the FAA is standing strong on its stance. Regardless, some groups like the Academy of Model Aeronautics are actually telling members not to register their drones.
The group, which has been running its own registration system for model aircraft, believes that its members should not be subject to additional regulations as "safety has been the cornerstone" of the organization for 80 years.
At the end of the day, Uncle Sam will have his way. Whether the FAA's new requirements will really have a substantial impact on the safety of drone flying or not, it's still too early to tell. Although, if amateur drone operators are hindering rescue operations during fires or are flying them around airports, the government is doing it right by playing it safe than sorry.