Get Ready To Register Your Drone With The FAA On December 21

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration today launched its long-expected drone registration program.

Starting December 21, owners in the U.S. will have to register their drones with the government for a $5 fee (though the FAA is making registration free for the first 30 days).

Those who already own drones today (or plan to buy one before the 21st) will have until February 19, 2016 to register them. Those who buy their drone after December 21, 2015 will have to register it before their first outdoor flight. Registrations will be valid for three years. So if you’re getting a drone for Christmas, you can’t just go out and fly it. First you have to go online and register.

Registrations will be valid for three years.

The FAA will offer both a paper-based and web-based system for registration, though chances are most people will opt for the online version. You’ll be able to pay the fee with any standard credit or debit card (or by check and money order if you opt for the offline registration).

As expected, all hobbyists who own drones that weigh under 55 pounds (including payloads like cameras) will have to register their drones now. Pilots will have to provide their names, home address, and e-mail addresses and must be at least 13 years old to register.

During the registration process, drone owners will get a unique registration number — similar to the one aircraft owners already get today — and this number has to be marked on the drone. The registration numbers are linked to the owner, not the drone, so you can use the same number for multiple drones. The registration number can be marked on the drone or inside the battery compartment.

You and whoever else flies your drone also need to carry a copy of the registration certificate on them (either a printed or electronic version).

“Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiast are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “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.”

You can read the full version of the FAA’s registration rules here.

Sadly, the FAA will still charge a fee for the registration process. At $5, it’s more of a symbolic price than anything else though and anybody who can afford a $500 drone will also be able to pay for the registration. Indeed, the $5 for drones is the same fee the FAA has charged for pilots’ planes since 1966. While many hoped the FAA wouldn’t charge a registration fee, the agency says it’s legally required to.

Overall, the registration program seems like a reasonable compromise. The idea behind it is to ensure that new drone pilots feel a degree of responsibility when they operate their new toys. By having your name attached to your drone, you’ll likely be a bit more careful about flying where you shouldn’t. Those who want to use their drones for nefarious purposes still won’t register them, of course.