The new FAA small-drone registration rule requires aircraft owners to pay $5 for the required paperwork.
That fee is required for registration of any aircraft (manned or unmanned), per FAA procedures and congressional guidance. “The fee is the same for registering a Cessna 172 or a Boeing 787,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Monday in announcing the registration rule effective Dec. 21 for drones with maximum takeoff weights from more than 0.55 lb to less than 55 lb.
But that could change.
The FAA has been looking at changing the registration fee (and others) since Congress told it to do so in a three-year budget authorization legislation enacted in 2012, the agency’s associate administrator for aviation safety, Peggy Gilligan, said during the new rule’s announcement. In setting a fee amount, the FAA cannot “exceed the estimated costs of the service or activity,” according to that law, called the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act. But it also directed the agency to adjust a fee if the FAA administrator “determines that the actual cost of the service or activity is higher or lower” than indicated by cost data originally used to set it.
Subsequent short-term “reauthorization” laws blocked the FAA from changing fees. The latest of those laws expires March 31, and Congress is working on a new three-year reauthorization. That has the FAA again looking at the possibility of adjusting aircraft registration fees if Congress allows such changes.
Under the new rule, which is to be published Tuesday, owners who purchased their aircraft before Dec. 21 have until Feb. 19, 2016, to register the drones. Unlike owners of 172s or 787s, their $5 will cover multiple aircraft, all of which can use the same N number. Owners who buy drones starting Dec. 21 must register them before their first outdoor flight.
To encourage people to register their small drones, the FAA is waiving the $5 fee for 30 days (through Jan. 20, 2016). A federal task force set up to propose a small-drone registration scheme last month recommended charging no fee, but federal law will not permit that.
Owners can use the FAA’s paper application or a new website to be unveiled Tuesday to register their drones. Registrants using the website must be at least 13 years old. Deputy FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker said the agency expects that parents or guardians will register small drones for children even younger.