Drones are one of the hottest tech gifts this holiday season, but if you receive one you'll have to register it with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The new regulations announced Monday follow numerous incidents of drones invading airspace near airports, where they could cause catastrophic accidents. For now, the policy only applies to hobbyists, and commercial drone operators will be exempt until more rules are passed next year.
Like it or not, FAA is right to require drone registration
Some people likely think the regulation is intrusive and another example of Washington overstepping its bounds. Concerns that regulations will slow the booming market for drones also exist. The vast majority of drone pilots are probably also responsible, as are most folks who drive cars, but the ones who aren't need to be reined in for the sake of safety and privacy.
A study released Friday by Bard College's Center for the Study of the Drone says drones were involved in 327 "close encounters," in which they presented hazards to manned aircraft, including 90 incidents with commercial jets between December 2013 and September 2015.
The study found that such incidents involved the popular multi-rotor unmanned aircraft more frequently than fixed-wing drones. They predominantly occurred far above the FAA's 400-foot ceiling for unmanned aircraft, according to the report, and often within five miles of an airport.
Fortunately, there haven't been reports of serious accidents involving drones and manned aircraft. However, a British toddler lost an eye last month after an out-of-control drone sliced into his face.
A step in the right direction for drone regulation
Safety is not the only issue. Some people filed complaints about drones hovering near their windows or above their backyards. Many of the devices have cameras, so there's potential for serious privacy invasions. In the future, registered drones will be marked with identification numbers, so pilots who invade private airspace — or endanger aircraft — will not, in theory, be anonymous.
The FAA says drones that weigh between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds, and that fly outdoors need to be registered. You can apply for drone registration online beginning Dec. 21. Registration costs $5, but for the first 30 days ending Jan. 20, 2016, the FAA plans to waive the fees to expedite the process. Drone owners have until Feb. 19 to register. The licenses last for three years and can cover as many as 30 different aircraft.
It is unclear exactly how the FAA will enforce the regulation, or how violators will be penalized, but I reached out to the FAA, and I'll update this post accordingly if I get a response.