FAA finally issues ruling: Registration is a go for drone pilots

No license requirement, but don't fly those Christmas gifts without registering

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"Make no mistake," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, "unmanned aircraft enthusiasts are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility."

With that, the FAA announced at long last its guidelines for registration. If you own a drone weighing more than 0.55 pounds (including payloads such as cameras), you must register as a pilot.

The FAA rule follows guidelines proposed by an FAA task force in November. Notably, the FAA is not requiring hobbyist drone pilots to obtain any kind of license. Pilots must be at least 13 years old and can register via the FAA's web-based system. Hobbyists will only have to register once, regardless of the number of drones they own.

Any owner of a small UAS who has previously operated an unmanned aircraft exclusively as a model aircraft prior to December 21, 2015, must register no later than February 19, 2016. Owners of any other UAS purchased for use as a model aircraft after December 21, 2015 must register before the first flight outdoors. That's an important detail, because it means all those Christmas drones can not be flown without first completing the registration process.

"We expect hundreds of thousands of model unmanned aircraft will be purchased this holiday season," said FAA Administrator Huerta. "Registration gives us the opportunity to educate these new airspace users before they fly so they know the airspace rules and understand they are accountable to the public for flying responsibly."

Registrants will need to provide their name, home address and e-mail address. Upon completion of the registration process, the web application will generate a Certificate of Aircraft Registration/Proof of Ownership that will include a unique identification number for the UAS owner, which must be marked on the aircraft.

The normal registration fee is $5, but in an effort to encourage as many people as possible to register quickly, the FAA is waiving this fee for the first 30 days (from Dec. 21, 2015 to Jan 20, 2016).

The online registration system does not yet support registration of small UAS used for any purpose other than hobby or recreation -- for example, using an unmanned aircraft in connection with a business. The FAA is developing enhancements that will allow such online registrations by spring of 2016.