Unregistered drone owners risk jail time

Federal Aviation Administration requires U.S. drone owners to register before February 19, 2016 in order to avoid civil and criminal penalties.

An estimated 1.6 million drones were sold in 2015, half of which landed as Christmas gifts, in socks over the fireplace, and under Christmas trees. If you were lucky enough to unwrap one of these high-tech quadcopters, some action may be required to avoid some unplanned jail time.

With drones believed to be the next big thing in tech, the U.S. Federal government through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), is making it mandatory for all US citizens and permanent residents over the age of 13 to register their “small unmanned aircrafts.”

Failure to register comes with severe consequences, including civil penalties of up to $27,500 and criminal penalties of up to $250,000 and/or up to three years in prison.  

You have until February 19, 2016 to complete the online registration process to avoid any kind of penalty for the drones you already own. If you are planning on buying a drone in the future you will need to register your new toy before you are allowed to operate it.

Nearly 300,000 US drone owners have registered with the FAA’s online database since the registration process went live on December 21, 2015. But with the deadline looming, and millions of drones sold, the requirement to register all existing drones may just be a lofty goal.

The online process costs $5.00 and is currently only open to hobbyists with drones that weigh more than 250g (0.55lbs) and less than 25kg (55lbs). If you own a nano drone like the OnagoFly which we reviewed during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, you’re exempt from the process altogether.

Commercial users and owners of unmanned aircrafts that are on the heavy side (above 25 kg or 55 lbs.) are still bound to a paper registration process. Although the FAA promised to change this to an online registration as well by March 21, 2016.

Once registered each owner receives a number and a certificate. The number then has to be noted on every unmanned aircraft you plan to operate. There isn’t an actual license plate or sticker. Instead, we recommend using a waterproof pen to write the number directly on your drone to ensure your registration number will be visible even after a flight through the rain.

Good news is that registration process is based on individual users and doesn’t have to be repeated for each drone you plan on buying.

The FAA says that the registration number will help them to quickly identify drone operators in case of accidents and will provide a way to inform you about safety requirements and future regulations. 

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