Drones Now Under Federal Regulatory Requirements

Drones were at the top of the gift list this holiday, with an estimated 700,000 showing up under the tree. The thought of having this many new Unmanned Aviation Systems (UAS) in our air space forced the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to get a registration system in place – and fast. But because the United States has the busiest and most complex airspace in the world, the FAA is taking an incremental approach to safe UAS integration. Beginning December 21, 2015, all model aircraft that have a flight weight of more than 250g (.55lb) and less than 55 lbs. will need to be registered before being flown outdoors. This includes the millions of UAS that were previously purchased and flown. UAS weighing more than 55 lbs. will have to be registered using a different method.

So, what’s in the new regulations? Nothing that should squash anyone’s fun.

  • The owner of a drone must register, using their email address, mailing address and submitting a $5 registration fee. A registration certificate is then issued to the owner and that number must be placed on any drone that meets the registration requirement. That same registration number gets applied to all of one owner’s drones.
  • Drones can be flown only for hobby or recreational purposes
  • Must be flown below 400 feet
  • Must be kept away from airports or any manned aircraft
  • Must avoid sporting events or crowds of people
  • Must not enter restricted airspace
  • Must be kept clear of emergency response efforts

As an owner of at least one quadcopter that falls into the classification requiring registration, I welcome the new regulations. I realize that, when flying these machines, I have a responsibility to keep people and property around me as safe as possible. The registration, which I actually consider more of a pilot registration than a drone registration, is simply designed to communicate some simple safety rules and make sure there is accountability in the case of an incident.

The online registration system will be expanded to support commercial registrations beginning March 31, 2016. This will allow companies to employ drones for revenue-producing activities. Amazon, for instance, has demonstrated an interest in using drones to deliver goods to consumers, and the NFL has been in talks with the FAA to use drones for filming and broadcasting football games. On a more mom-and-pop level, I know a few photographers that will be introducing drones into their practices when filming weddings and photographing real estate.

Right now the largest limitation on consumer drones is flight time. Their batteries, depending on the model, may last from as little as five minutes up to about 25 minutes. As technology advances, I would expect flight times to increase, too. This will expand the delivery reach for companies like Amazon, as well as the broadcast capability for things such as sporting events. And if the past is any indicator of how fast technology dreams come to fruition, I would expect to see UAS populating the airspace over you very soon.

In conclusion, drones have great potential for both recreational and commercial use. Just be sure you follow the sensible registration and use regulations. More detailed information on the regulations can be found at https://www.faa.gov/uas/.