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FAA requires drone owners to register by February 19 or face fines

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has announced a process that requires owners of small unmanned aircraft weighing more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) to register their aircraft by February 19 or face fines.

Under the new rules, current owners of drones used for hobby or recreation will have to register their aircraft no later than February 19, while any drones purchased for use as a model aircraft after December 21 must be registered before being flown outdoors. The statutory requirements apply to drones weighing more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) and less than 55 pounds (25 kilograms), including payloads such as cameras.

"Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiast are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement on Monday. "Registration gives us an opportunity to work with these users to operate their unmanned aircraft safely. I’m excited to welcome these new aviators into the culture of safety and responsibility that defines American innovation."

Owners may use either a paper-based process or a web-based system at www.faa.gov/uas/registration, which will return a Certificate of Aircraft Registration/Proof of Ownership that includes a unique identification number that must be marked on the aircraft. Owners using the aircraft for hobby or recreation will only have to register once and may use the same identification number for all of their model aircraft.

The registration fee for drones will be $5, but the FAA is waiving the fee between December 21 and January 20 to encourage people to register their drones quickly. Failure to register an aircraft can result in civil penalties up to $27,500, while criminal penalties for failure to register can include fines of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment up to 3 years.

"We expect hundreds of thousands of model unmanned aircraft will be purchased this holiday season," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said. "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."

The newly-developed registration process only supports the registration of drones used for hobby or recreation, but a system to register drones for other purposes - such as for use by businesses - is expected to launch by the spring of 2016.

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