A DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ drone, manufactured by SZ DJI Technology Co., flies during the CP+ Camera and Photo Imaging Show in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015.
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images
By Victor Luckerson
December 14, 2015

Federal regulators are launching a new registration system for drones, as hundreds of thousands of the unmanned flying devices are expected to be sold as holiday gifts this month.

The new system requires owners of drones that weigh between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds to register with the Federal Aviation Administration through a new online form. Once the process is complete, drone operators are provided with a registration number, which they must affix to their aircraft. Operators only have to register once, even if they own multiple drones.

The registration process will cost $5 per person, but the FAA is waiving the fee for the first 30 days to encourage participation. The registration is valid for three years.

The move is the latest attempt by the FAA to bring some order to the domestic drone industry, which has exploded in popularity this year. The agency estimates that 1.6 million drones will be sold to hobbyists in 2015. At the same time, reports of unsafe operations have more than quadrupled in the last year, as some commercial pilots say drones are getting dangerously close to their aircraft. Registration is expected to increase accountability among drone operators by making it easier for law enforcement to track down the owners of machines that are causing trouble.

During the drafting process for the new rules, some public commenters said the registration system would be difficult and expensive to implement. The Arlington Police Department said it and other police departments didn’t have the resources to enforce the rules. For now the FAA is encouraging voluntary compliance, but it can take legal action against operators as well. Failure to register an aircraft can lead to civil penalties of up to $27,500, with larger criminal penalties possible.

Drone registration begins on Dec. 21. A separate registration system for commercial drone flight is expected to launch in the spring of 2016.

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