FAA Faces Criticism Over Drone Registration Fee

The Federal Aviation Administration's decision to charge the public $5 to register their small drones could threaten the uptake of both the technology and the registration process, industry groups say.

The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) industry was largely open to the process of helping to create the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) standards for unmanned-vehicle use.

One thing they aren’t quite so open to? The fact that registering a drone with the federal government costs money. Starting December 21—just in time for Christmas—the FAA will open up its web portal, allowing people to register drones weighing more than 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds. Registration completed before January 20, 2016, will be free. Afterward, it’ll cost $5.

That fee—however nominal it might seem—isn’t sitting well with associations. The Consumer Technology Association, for example, said it appreciated that the FAA decided to largely follow the recommendations from industry stakeholders, but the association’s vice president of technology policy, Douglas Johnson, said the group was not OK with the “drone tax,” something he warned “will hamper registration and discourage compliance.”

The problem, says the Small UAV Coalition, is that the fee is often applied to fairly tiny devices that would otherwise be inexpensive to purchase

“The $5 fee to cover administrative costs may prevent users from registering for both convenience and cost, especially in the case of small toy-like UAVs,” the coalition explained in a news release [PDF].

The National Business Aviation Association, a group representing private plane owners and operators, also took aim at the decision to charge, saying it could affect safety efforts.

“Given the agency’s stated goal that the registration process should serve primarily to educate [drone] operators, we feel that process should be as inclusive as possible,” Sarah Wolf, NBAA’s senior manager of security and facilitation, said in a news release.

Despite the fee, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta believed that the registration process would be embraced by the public.

“We expect hundreds of thousands of model unmanned aircraft will be purchased this holiday season,” Huerta said in a news 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.”

Those who fail to register their devices could face hefty fines and even prison time. So, yeah, you might want to register that Christmas gift.

(Gary Cameron/Reuters)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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