The Federal Aviation Administration has finally published its long-awaited regulations for drones and other unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). And while the new rules are close to the recommendations made by the agency’s Registration Task Force in November, there are some new twists.
Who must register
The main requirement is that all UAS devices that weigh more than 8.8 ounces (or 250 grams) but less than 55 pounds and will be used outdoors must be registered. Drones heavier than 55 pounds are likely being used for commercial purposes, and so are already covered by a separate registration system.
Now that the new FAA regulations are in place, all operators of UAS devices — including model aircraft owners as well as drone operators — will be required to register and to place their registration numbers on their devices where they can be seen without the use of tools. Registration starts December 21, and there will be a $5 fee. A single registration can cover any number of devices, and for the first month, the fee will be refunded.
FAA headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Matt Bisanz)
Once registration begins, you won’t be able to legally fly your drone until it’s been registered. (Some model aircraft owners will have until February to register.)
When you go to the registration website (which won’t be live until December 21), you’ll be asked to provide some basic contact information, along with a credit card number to pay the registration fee. You will not be required (or even allowed) to provide your drone’s serial number initially.
Once you’ve done this, the FAA will send you a registration number, probably by return email. You can put that number on the device any way you wish, as long as it’s legible, permanent, and accessible.
Don’t fly without it
The FAA suggests writing the number legibly somewhere on the vehicle with a permanent market; affixing a label; or engraving the number. However you do it, the number must be accessible without the use of tools; it could, for example, be inside the battery compartment, as long as you don’t need tools to open it. In addition, you’ll be required to have the registration available for inspection, which means you can print the certificate or have it available electronically, perhaps by saving it on your phone.
As you’d expect, there are penalties if the government finds out that you’re operating an unregistered drone. The fine can be as high as $27,500. They can also confiscate your drone.
The FAA also points out that the drone registry can be used to return your device to you if it gets lost or stolen. While the registration information won’t be public, the FAA can do a lookup and tell whoever finds your lost drone how to return it to you.
Just the beginning
Unfortunately for drone operators, this is just the first effort by the government to regulate drones. According to Hulsey Smith, CEO of UAS manufacturer Aero Kinetics, a bill is already making its way through Congress that will add significant limits to UAS operations. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has introduced the Consumer Drone Safety Act, which would dictate altitude limits, collision avoidance, and no-fly zones, among other things. The act would also mandate oversight of drone activity by the FAA.
“Registration is only the first step in a comprehensive framework that provides for the public safety,” Smith said. He said that drone operators should also expect additional regulation, such as airworthiness requirements.
Wayne Rash is senior columnist for eWEEK and is a longtime writer about aviation and space. He has been a pilot since 1970. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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