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Technology has forced both the government and airlines to take action in an effort to make the skies safer. Last week, several airlines banned passengers from bringing hoverboards on board because of safety concerns. And this week, it’s not something onboard aircraft that’s causing the concern, but instead it’s gadgets flying outside that’s spurred the attention of the FAA – drones.
In a press release, the FAA announced it would be requiring all drones to be registered with the federal government – no matter how big or how small. As of December 21, 2015, the FAA’s registration website will go active for drone owners – both new and existing – to register their aircraft. All owners of drones, or small unmanned aircraft (UAS), that weigh more than 0.55 lbs and less than 55 lbs (including payloads, such as onboard cameras) will have to register with the “streamlined and user-friendly web-based aircraft registration process.”
Any owner of a small UAS who has operated an unmanned aircraft as of December 21, 2015 must register their UAS no later than February 19, 2016. For a UAS purchased after December 21, 2015 – and the agency expects that 1.6 million will be sold this year, with half during the last three months of the year, presumably for holiday gifts – the aircraft must be registered before its first outdoor flight. The person registering the UAS must be at least 13 years old and provide their name, physical address and an email address. There will be a $5 fee, but that will be refunded if the registration is complete up to 30 days after the system goes live (before January 20, 2016). Once completing the registration process, the owner will receive a certificate containing a number that must be clearly be marked on the UAS.
Overall, this is good news for the safety of commercial aircraft in the skies. According to the Associated Press, the FAA is receiving more than 100 reports per month of drones flying near manned aircraft. Drones have been responsible for at least 28 instances in which pilots have had to veer off course to avoid a collision, according to an analysis of FAA reports by Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone. Government and industry officials have expressed concern about the growing number of hobbyists flying drones and the idea they could be sucked into an aircraft engine, smash a cockpit windshield or damage a part of the aircraft enough to cause a crash.
The FAA hopes that by requiring UASs to be registered, it will be easier to identify owners of drones and to better educate amateurs on the safety concerns and rules of flying unmanned aircraft in the same airspace as manned aircraft. Registrants will be informed they must fly the UASs below 400 feet, keep the device in sight at all times, never fly over groups of people or stadiums and seek permission from control towers to fly within five miles of an airport.
As for those who don’t obey the FAA’s new regulations, the agency will have both civil and criminal enforcement actions available, including a $27,500 maximum civil fine and a maximum of three years in prison. According to the FAA’s deputy administrator Michael Whitaker, that action would be taken “in an egregious situation.” But, it’s nice to know that the FAA is taking steps toward making the commercial skies a bit safer.
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