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Should you get a drone as a gift during the holidays, you'll have to tell the federal government about it. The Federal Aviation Administration now requires owners to register their drones. As NPR's Brian Naylor reports, the FAA is acting after some hobbyists flew their drones too close to commercial aircraft.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: It's anticipated that hundreds of thousands of recreational drones will be sold this holiday season. So the government, hoping to avoid a potentially tragic run-in between a drone and a manned aircraft, announced the registration requirement now. It will take effect next Monday when you'll be able to log onto an FAA website, type in your name, address and email address and, with a credit card, pay the $5 registration fee. You'll get the money back if you sign up in the first 30 days. In a conference call with reporters, transportation secretary Anthony Foxx says the fee is actually kind of a bargain.
ANTHONY FOXX: We set the registration fee at $5, which is the same amount we charge for registering a Cessna 172 or a Boeing 787.
NAYLOR: Once you've signed up, you'll get an official certificate of aircraft registration and a number you're supposed to write on the drone. That way, if it crashes some place it shouldn't be, the FAA can trace the drone back to its owner. If people don't comply, there are civil and criminal penalties that could land an operator in jail for up to three years. But FAA deputy administrator Michael Whitaker says the government isn't really interested in locking up wayward drone pilots so much as educating them.
MICHAEL WHITAKER: The incidents where we've seen aircraft flying near airports or around other aircraft we believe are largely due to the people not understanding the rules and the large number of new users that have come into this system.
NAYLOR: The rules, by the way, say drones should only be flown at altitudes below 400 feet, not over people, only within the line of sight of the operator and no closer than five miles to an airport unless you call the control tower first. An industry-led task force had argued against setting a fee, saying it would amount to a drone tax. Douglas Johnson is with the Consumer Technology Association.
DOUGLAS JOHNSON: The fact that you have to pay something could be a disincentive for registering in the first place. So we were strongly in favor of a free registration system in order to achieve maximum compliance.
NAYLOR: The registration fee could be challenged in court because Congress has barred the FAA from regulating recreational drone use. But the agency argues the fee is registration and not regulation. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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