Christmas Drone Sales Could Top $700,000

Hobby drones. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Remote-controlled Copters.

Call them what you will, in many cases they’re becoming a nuisance. A minority of irresponsible users have been flying them too close to airplanes and helicopters, wandering into restricted military airspace, spying on neighbors; disrupting sporting events and even injuring people. It was only a matter of time before some trigger-happy vigilante shot one of the privacy invaders out of the sky.

Regulators and law enforcers are struggling to cope with the growth in their popularity, increasing the likelihood that heavy-handed legislation could stifle innovation in a sector that has great commercial potential for businesses large and small.

The Government Steps In: Drones in the US, and the people who fly them, must be registered in a government database beginning on December 21st. Any drones purchased from that date onwards must be logged before the first outdoor flight, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said.

Existing drone owners will have until February 19th, 2016 to register their drones, but a $5 fee will be waived to encourage registration within the first 30 days.

FAA spokesman Les Dorr said that it would seek to educate, rather than punish, those found to have not registered their drones. But he added: “For people who simply refuse to register, we do have enforcement tools available.” Those punishments could be civil penalties of up to $27,500, but in severe cases, criminal prosecutions could result in a $250,000 fine and a maximum of three years in prison.

The new rule affects drones weighing in at half a pound to 55lb. Users older than 13 must register themselves, but parents can register on behalf of younger children. Each drone will be given a unique identification number to be displayed on the device.

On Monday, December 14th, the FAA promised the process would be streamlined and user-friendly. “Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiasts are aviators and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility,” US transportation secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “Registration gives us an opportunity to work with these users to operate their unmanned aircraft safely.

What will registering drones accomplish? Regulators had been under pressure to clamp down on what many people, particularly those in the emergency services, consider to be a growing menace – hobbyist drone users flying in unwanted places. Firefighters in California have reported that drones have disrupted efforts to contain wildfires.

Unfortunately, drone rules and registration will not prevent bad drone use. Many pundits are drawing comparisons to people who drive cars without a driver’s license or insurance: “You really can’t legislate against stupidity.” But other bodies, including the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems – The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, have backed the idea and taken an active role in consultations. The new regulations fall short of allowing emergency service personnel to forcibly disable drones by using electronic jamming equipment. Let’s see how long that lasts?

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