US drone operators must register with the FAA by February

The FAA's online registration form goes live on December 21st.

Flickr/Richard Unten

If you fly a drone, the Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration wants to know about it. The FAA's online drone-registration program goes live on December 21st, and anyone who's ever operated an aircraft between the weights of .55 pounds and 55 pounds needs to sign on before February 19th. There will typically be a $5 fee for each registration, but the FAA is making it free for the first month, through January 20th.

"We expect hundreds of thousands of model unmanned aircraft will be purchased this holiday season," FAA administrator Michael Huerta says in a press release. "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."

Registration requires the operator's name, home address and email address, and it's valid for three years. The process results in a certificate that includes a unique identification number, which must be noted on the drone itself. If you don't register a drone, you risk civil penalties of up to $27,500, or criminal penalties of up to $250,000 and/or three years imprisonment.

The new online-registration rules apply to hobbyist or recreational drone operators only, for now. The FAA plans to roll out online registration for a wider range of drone operators, including commercial uses, by spring 2016. For now, business-centric drone operators have to register using the paper-based process, the FAA says.

[Image credit: Flickr/Richard Unten]