This week the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) may have caused some hesitation in some Christmas shoppers’ purchasing plans when it announced a change in procedure regarding unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones.

Note: An in-depth look at changing FAA guidelines issuing a new registration process for drones and what it may mean for hobbyists living in a no-fly zone with a Christmas shopping list to fill.

This week the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) may have caused some hesitation in some Christmas shoppers’ purchasing plans when it announced a change in procedure regarding unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones.

The new rule will require all pilots flying aircraft that are flown using a ground-control system, such as a transmitter, to register. This includes pilots who fly fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, multi-rotors and many drones.

According to faa.gov, drones that weigh between .55 of a pound (or 250 grams) and 55 pounds, must be registered by their pilots beginning Monday.

Shawnee Regional Airport Manager Keenan English said most toy drones, like ones often purchased around Christmas, are likely to fall below .55 of a pound, eliminating the need to register –– but not necessarily.

“Read the box,” English said, “make sure of what you’ve got and know what it requires.”

To stay exempt from registering, keep in mind the drone must remain below the required minimum. The weight of any added equipment –– like a camera –– must be figured into the total, he said.

English said the registration rule is merely a measure to make drones easier to track if anything happens.

For those who will need to register, here’s what it entails:

• Pilots will not be required to register every aircraft individually. Pilots only need to register once and affix the same registration number to all aircraft flown by the pilot.

• A pilot must mark all aircraft with his/her registration number. The number can be inside the aircraft, such as a battery hatch –– but should not require tools to access.

• The FAA plans to launch the online registration website on Monday.

• There is a $5 fee to register, which is waived if registering within the first 30 days.

• Pilots need to register once every 3 years.

 

Feeding frenzy

It’s difficult to say how the new registration rule will affect last-minute Christmas sales –– if it will hinder shoppers’ plans or not.

Before the announcement, Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) market research expected 2015 to be a defining year for drones, with the category ideally positioned for steady growth. According to CEA projections, the U.S. market is expected to approach $105 million in revenue in 2015 (increasing by more than 52 percent from 2014) with unit sales expected to approach 700,000, an increase of 63 percent, according to cta.tech.

Unit sales of drones and revenue from sales is expected to exceed $1 billion in just five years, according to CEA’s U.S. Consumer Electronics Sales & Forecasts.

Whether those forecasts hold true, whoever buys or receives these drones will need to pay close attention to the guidelines.

 

Not so new

There are many rules already in place regarding the recreational use of drones. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 outlines some parameters of operation:

• Don’t fly within five miles of an airport unless you contact the airport and control tower before flying.

This rule is especially important to Shawnee residents.

City Engineer John Krywicki said Shawnee’s city limits –– though irregular –– are roughly five miles across at the widest point running east to west, and about 10.5 miles running north to south.

The thing to note is that the airport is somewhat centralized, meaning the majority of the city ¬–– and all its parks –– lies within the five-mile limit.

English said calling in a request to fly a drone within five miles of the airport can help keep everyone on the same page.

He said he hasn’t received many calls notifying him that someone is flying a drone nearby.

“If I know someone is taking a drone out, and I know where, how long and what the drone’s max altitude will be, I can put out a notice to the pilots. They can look it up before getting taking off in a plane,” he said.

With good communication, accidents can be avoided often.

To notify the airport of any flight plans, call (405) 878-1633.

• Fly drones below 400 feet and remain clear of surrounding obstacles.

Planes will be flying above 500 feet, and a UAS should stay below 400 feet, so there’s a little wiggle room, but knowing who or what’s in the area can lessen the chance of accidents, English said.

• Keep the aircraft within visual line of sight at all times.

• Remain clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations.

• Don’t fly near people or stadiums.

• Don’t fly an aircraft that weighs more than 55 pounds.

English said such an aircraft falls under a more formal application process and a more strict set of regulations.

• Don’t be careless or reckless with a UAS –– you could be fined for endangering people or other aircraft.

 

Affected, but unfazed

Ed Bolt, owner of a UAS in Shawnee, said it kind of seems like a knee-jerk reaction to the hysteria people get caught up with.

“It’s just like anything else, people have use their drones responsibly,” Bolt said. “You can do good or bad with anything. If the conditions aren’t right, just don’t do it.”

He said he has enjoyed his UAS.

“It’s just a robot. For me, as a professional photographer, it allows me to put a camera where I can’t go –– which affords an interesting perspective or point of view,” Bolt said.

“I’m not going to have a whole lot of heartburn over it. Right now I have a little time to see what happens before I have to register my drone. The rule looks like it’s going to be challenged,” he said.

 

Not walking on air

The regulation has some organizations up in arms, claiming the step is pushing too much oversight or it’s too burdensome and unnecessary.

The rule is being implemented over Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) objections.

AMA was a member of the task force that helped develop recommendations for this registration rule and argued throughout the process that registration makes sense at some level but only for those operating outside the guidance of a community-based organization or flying for commercial purposes, according to amablog.modelaircraft.org.

The blogger said, “Unfortunately, the new FAA registration rule does not include our advice. The rule is counter to Congress’s intent in the Special Rule for Model Aircraft and makes the registration process an unnecessary burden for all of our members who have been operating safely for decades.”

On Monday, online registration will be available at faa.gov.

The $5 fee will be refunded for those who register by Jan. 20. The deadline for current drone owners is Feb. 19.

Future owners will be required to register before flying their drones.

For more information, visit faa.gov or knowbeforeyoufly.org.

 

Tell me your story ideas. You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.