Feds Will Require $5 Registration Fee for Drones

Nathan Bilow/AP

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.