Owners of unmanned aircraft systems have until Friday evening to register their drones with the Federal Aviation Administration or face hefty fines if they fly outdoors.
The federal agency began the registration program last year on Dec. 21. The registry will close at 10:59 p.m. CT on Feb. 19. According to the FAA, drone operators who don’t register their devices could face civil penalties of up to $27,500 and criminal penalties of up to $250,000 or imprisonment for up to three years.
Registration applies to drones weighing between .55 and 55 pounds that were purchased before Dec. 21, 2015. Aircrafts weighing more than 55 pounds cannot use the FAA's Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) registry and must register using the Aircraft Registry process.
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Drones that were bought after the Dec. 21 date should be registered before their first flight outdoors. Registration costs $5 and can be completed online here. The fee will be waived for 30 days after the law goes into effect.
FAA Administrator Micheal Huerta said more than 325,000 people have registered their drones as of Feb. 8, the latest figures reported by the federal agency. That number surpasses the 320,000 piloted aircraft registered with the FAA.
The surging popularity of remote-controlled aircraft, which are flooding airspace already packed with passenger planes, have raised concerns over midair collisions. But some aviation experts doubt the new rule will help increase safety for unmanned aircraft.
"In my opinion, the bottom line of registering these drones is almost useless," said aviation consultant Denny Kelly. "It's a start and a step in the right direction."
HobbyTown USA's Tony White, who has been flying UAVs for decades said he thinks FAA registration is the first step toward licensing and certification, even for recreational drone users.
"We are in the period of transition," he said. "This is just like when airplanes were brand new."