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Drone registration
After filling out the forms on the FAA’s website, you get a registration number plus instructions on how to use it with your drone. The number has been blacked out in this image. (Credit: FAA)

The Federal Aviation Administration launched its registration website for recreational drones today – and based on the initial reports, it was a rough ride.

Some would-be registrants reported seeing nothing but a blank screen when they clicked the button to sign up at RegisterMyUAS.FAA.gov. Some said they couldn’t use their credit card to pay the $5 registration fee, or encountered database mix-ups.

Within a couple of hours, the opening-day glitches seemed to settle down.

“It takes a while to push the updated web content and links to all the servers worldwide that make up the Internet,” FAA spokesman Les Dorr explained in an email to GeekWire. “Some computers will get the information before others. Also suggest you clear the browser’s cache.”

Dorr said no statistics on numbers of registrants would be released today.

From now on, the FAA’s rules require new owners of recreational drones to register their flying machines before they set them loose outside. If you bought your drone before today, you have until Feb. 19 to register. And if you register before Jan. 20, you’ll get a refund of the $5 fee.

The rules for online registration apply to recreational drones weighing between 0.55 pounds (250 grams) and 55 pounds (25 kilograms.) If the drone is lighter, it’s considered a toy and won’t need to be registered. If it’s heavier, or if you’re using it for commercial purposes, you’ll have to use the on-paper registration process

After filling out the online forms, you’ll get a registration number to mark on your drones. You’ll also get an email with a registration certificate that you can print out or keep on your smartphone. You should have the certificate with you whenever you fly. If you don’t, and if you get into trouble, you could face civil penalties of up to $27,500, or criminal penalties of up to $250,000 and three years in jail.

Chris Foster, an IT manager at the FAA, shows the drone registration certificate that he received in email from the agency's website. The number has been blacked out. (Credit: FAA)
Chris Foster, an IT manager at the FAA, shows the drone registration certificate that he received in email from the agency’s website. The number has been blacked out. (Credit: FAA)

The registration number applies to the drone operator rather than to drones. You don’t have to register multiple drones separately: Just mark the same number on all the drones you own. The registration will have to be renewed after three years.

For further details, check out the FAA’s FAQ. There’s also an educational website called “Know Before You Fly.”

The FAA hustled up the online registration process because it wanted to get a better handle on the hundreds of thousands of recreational drones that are being sold during the holiday season. The agency is concerned about the potential for incidents like this year’s White House intrusion or U.S. Open drone crash. Last month, a drone crashed into Seattle’s Great Wheel and stirred up a kerfuffle.

It’s not clear exactly how intrusive the rules will prove to be. Some observers suggest they may face a court challenge. Last week, the Academy of Model Aeronautics advised its members to hold off on registering until told otherwise, or until the Feb. 19 deadline.

“Holding off on registration will allow AMA time to fully consider all possible options,” it said in a statement. “On a parallel track, it also allows AMA to complete ongoing conversations with the FAA about how best to streamline the registration process for our members.’

The FAA is expected to issue a separate set of rules for commercial drones next spring.

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