Kris Graham: FAA requiring drone registration

Kris Graham
Guest columnist – The Clarion-Ledger
December 16, 2015

It is predicted that several hundred thousand new and inexperienced drone operators will take to the skies after Christmas, prompting the Federal Aviation Administration, in a conference call this week, to announce the details of a mandatory registration program for recreational drones.

For the most part, the rules that were released follow the recommendations of an industry-led task force formed in October. The task force was formed in response to an increasing number of calls for registration amid growing safety and privacy concerns perceived to be presented by drones. Registration, according to proponents, will foster a culture of accountability and safety, discourage “reckless” operators, and thereby protect innovation and the benefits unmanned systems offer to society.

Under the new rules, all unmanned aircraft systems weighing between half a pound and 55 pounds must be registered before flight, if purchased after Dec. 21. Those who purchased their drones prior to Dec. 21 will have until Feb. 19 to register. Registration will be free for the first 30 days, then $5 afterwards. Registration is limited to those 13 and older. If the owner of the drone is under 13 years old, the drone must be registered by someone 13 or older.

Once someone registers, he or she will receive a unique registration number and a certificate of registration. Each drone/model aircraft must be marked with the registration number issued and the operator must be able to present their registration certificate anytime they are operating their drone. An electronic copy (for instance, saved to a phone) will suffice.

The good news is that the process for registering has been greatly simplified, relative to the old, carbon paper registration forms currently used and that commercial drone operators will soon be able to use online registration, too. The bad news is that flying an unregistered drone that weighs as much as two sticks of butter will be, according to the FAA, a federal crime subjecting violators to fines of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years. If that has you scratching your head, you are not alone.

The drone registration requirement was hastily constructed to try and address problems caused by drone technology advancing faster than the law can keep up with. Many questions remain, not the least of which is enforceability. However, recreational drone owners would be wise to register their aircraft until this area of law is more settled if they wish to avoid exposure to the costs associated with defense of an enforcement action by the FAA.

Kris Graham is a Mississippi attorney who specializes in drone law. He can be reached at kris@trglawyers.com

SOURCE: The Clarion-Ledger