Americans have registered nearly 300,000 unmanned aerial systems in the month since the Federal Aviation Administration launched its new online system and required owners to register drones, the agency announced.
But that leaves as many as 500,000 or more of the remotely controlled aircraft purchased but not registered, according to the agency’s own estimates. And observers say the registration rate is likely to fall off now that a one-month grace period where the $5 fee was refundable has expired.
Last month, the FAA introduced a new “streamlined and user-friendly web-based aircraft registration process” for owners to register UAS weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds before their first flight, a measure that drew criticism from drone industry trade groups.
New drone pilots took the FAA’s advice and registered in “encouraging” numbers, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a release Friday. “We’re working hard to build on this early momentum and ensure everyone understands the registration requirement.”
But those numbers are just a portion of the record drone sales the FAA expected it would see this past holiday season; one top official tossed around the possibility of 1 million UAS sold for the holidays, and the agency in a report estimated 800,000. But the official number of drone registrations since the program launched Dec. 21 is just 295,306, leaving a possible 500,000 or more unregistered systems flying in American airspace.
That said, “[t]he agency continues to see a steady stream of daily registrations,” according to the release, though that might taper off because the refund period has ended. As many of the drones consumers are buying cost between $50 and $100, the registration fee becomes almost more like a hefty “drone tax,” Alan McQuinn, a research assistant with the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, told FedScoop in December.
The importance of the registration system is the opportunity to educate new users on safety measures before taking flight.
“In addition to being an education opportunity, registration helps new flyers become part of the safety culture that has been deeply embedded in traditional aviation for more than a century, while still allowing for the recreation and innovation that are staples of American aviation,” the release said.
“I am pleased the public responded to our call to register,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in the release. “The National Airspace System is a great resource and all users of it, including UAS users, are responsible for keeping it safe.”