Drone companies are expecting big sales for the holidays, but the government just gave them a lump of coal.
Consumers who buy drones will have to register with the government and pay a $5 fee, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Monday.
The move is an attempt by federal regulators to gain some control over the burgeoning drone industry, which is expecting a surge in sales for the holidays. Lawmakers and government officials have been calling for stricter regulations of recreational drones, citing a number of near misses with airplanes.
“Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiast are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “Registration gives us an opportunity to work with these users to operate their unmanned aircraft safely.”
The consumer drone industry was expecting a registration requirement but had lobbied against the $5 fee. Michael Drobac, a lobbyist for the firm Akin Gump, which represents a number of drone companies, called the fee a “disappointment” and warned that it will just discourage consumers from registering at all.
“The minute you ask consumers to pay for something of this kind, it creates a deterrent,” Drobac said. “Even though it’s a mandatory registration, the question becomes what are the enforcement mechanisms? How will consumers get this information?”
An FAA task force made up of drone companies, consumer advocates, and government officials had called for drone pilots to register but had recommended against a registration fee.
The rules apply to any drones that weigh more than .55 pounds but less than 55 pounds, which covers many (but not all) generally-available drones. Consumers can register online, and will have to provide their name, home address, and email address. In an effort to encourage registration, the FAA is waiving the registration fee for the first 30 days. Consumers who already bought drones will have to register by February 19.
The FAA still requires businesses to apply individually for special permission to operate drones for any commercial purposes, such as aerial photography.
“We expect hundreds of thousands of model unmanned aircraft will be purchased this holiday season,” Michael Huerta, the administrator of the FAA, said in a statement. “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.”
But the rules don’t impose any requirements on the drone makers or retailers. Instead, the responsibility will be on the consumer to register. Drobac said he hopes the FAA will spearhead a public relations campaign to inform consumers about their responsibility to register.
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