The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is launching a streamlined and user-friendly web-based aircraft registration process for owners of small unmanned aircraft (UAS) weighing more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) and less than 55 pounds (approximately 25 kilograms) including payloads such as on-board cameras.

“Make no mistake: Unmanned aircraft enthusiasts are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility,” says 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.”

Registrants must provide their name, home address and email address. Upon completion of the registration process, the web application will generate a Certificate of Aircraft Registration/Proof of Ownership that will include a unique identification number for the UAS owner, which must be marked on the aircraft.

Owners using the model aircraft for hobby or recreation will only have to register once and may use the same identification number for all of their model UAS. The registration is valid for three years. The normal registration fee is $5, but in an effort to encourage as many people as possible to register quickly, the FAA is waiving the fee for the first 30 days — from Dec. 21, 2015 to Jan 20, 2016.

"The Management Association for Private Photogrammetric Surveyors (MAPPS) applauds the FAA for a sensible and decisive action on small UAS registration," says John Perry, who represented MAPPS on the FAA task force regarding the matter. "This rule sets the groundwork for accountability among all users of the national airspace, and it was a necessary step given the increasing impact of drones in the aviation community. This new rule meets that objective, and also provides the benefit of streamlining the current registration process to reduce the regulatory burden."

The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) is pleased that, although not perfect, the move will lead to increased accountability across the aviation community, according to President and CEO Bryan Wynne. “Under the FAA’s proposed small UAS rule released earlier this year, commercial operators would be required to register their platforms. Extending this requirement to consumer UAS operators will help promote responsibility and safety,” he says.

However, the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) is disappointed with the FAA rule for UAS registration, according to Executive Director Dave Mathewson. “As a member of the task force that helped develop recommendations for this rule, AMA argued that registration makes sense at some level and for UAS flyers operating outside the guidance of a community-based organization or flying for commercial purposes,” he says. “Unfortunately, the new rule is counter to Congress’ intent in the Special Rule for Model Aircraft and makes the registration process an unnecessary burden for our more than 185,000 members who have been operating safely for decades.”

The Registration Task Force delivered recommendations to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Foxx on Nov. 21. The rule incorporates many of the task force recommendations.

Registration is a statutory requirement that applies to all aircraft. Under the rule, any owner of a small UAS who has previously operated an unmanned aircraft exclusively as a model aircraft prior to Dec. 21, 2015 must register no later than Feb. 19, 2016. Owners of any other UAS purchased for use as a model aircraft after Dec. 21, 2015 must register before the first flight outdoors. Owners may use either the paper-based process or the new streamlined, web-based system.  Owners using the new streamlined web-based system must be at least 13 years old to register.

“We expect hundreds of thousands of model unmanned aircraft will be purchased this holiday season,” Huerta says. “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 online registration system does not yet support registration of small UAS used for any purpose other than hobby or recreation — for example, using an unmanned aircraft in connection with a business. The FAA is developing enhancements that will allow such online registrations by spring of 2016.