May Your Days Be Merry and Bright, and Your Drones be Registered for Flight

On December 14, 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a “final interim rule” for registering unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, just in time for the holiday season.  (Note: Although the new rule goes into effect on December 21, 2015, the FAA has also created a second “notice and comment” period, and claims it may modify the interim rule based on those comments.  The notice and comment period closes on December 21, 2015.)  The FAA estimates nearly 800,000 small UAS will be sold this holiday season.  Accordingly, school districts and community college districts can anticipate a surge in the number of students who return to school as the proud owner of a new drone.

Pursuant to federal aviation law, all UAS must be FAA registered prior to being flown outdoors.  (See 49 U.S.C. §  44102; 80 FR 63912.)  The new FAA rule, which takes effect on December 21, 2015, provides a new, streamlined registration process that will be available online beginning Monday, December 21, 2015.  Click here to register.

The new FAA rule applies to owners of small UAS weighing between 0.55 (250 grams) and 55 pounds (including on-board payload, like cameras)—even to owners who limit flight to their own backyards.  All small UAS purchased on or after December 21, 2015, must be registered using either the new online system or the existing paper-based registration system before the UAS can be operated outdoors.  Existing small UAS owners, who previously used the UAS for only hobbyist purposes, have until February 19, 2016, to register their UAS.  Owners must be at least 13 years of age to register online.

UAS owners will be charged a $5.00 registration fee; however, the FAA will waive the fee for the first 30 days that the registry is open.  Under the new rule, hobbyist operators will be assigned a personal identification number that can be used for more than one UAS.  To obtain the identification number, hobbyist operators will need to provide the FAA their name, physical address, and email address.

The online registration system is not yet available for small UAS used for any purpose other than hobby.  The FAA anticipates online registration will be available for commercial operators beginning on March 31, 2016.  Unlike hobbyists, who will be given a personal identification number that would be the same for each of their aircrafts, commercial operators will need to register each UAS.

In anticipation of the influx of students who will own drones after this holiday season, educational agencies should be prepared to address student hobbyist use of drones consistent with applicable rules for student conduct.  Additionally, educational agencies that have an interest in owning UAS for non-hobby purposes, such as for aerial photography, surveillance, or research, should work with legal counsel to gain an FAA authorization to fly.

Tags: Drones

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