Tech by VICE

Registering Your Drone With the FAA Is Surprisingly Painless

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea, but at least the website works.

by Jason Koebler
Dec 21 2015, 6:00pm

Image: Andrew Turner/Flickr

In what must be some sort of minor miracle from the ghosts of government competence, the Federal Aviation Administration has launched a functioning version of its drone registration website on time.

The FAA announced in October that it was planning on requiring every drone owner to register with the agency. Last week, the agency issued an interim final rule outlining the specifics of the program (briefly, it requires anyone who owns a drone that weighs more than half a pound to register with the FAA).

The FAA has missed most every drone deadline it has set for itself, and the program is expected to be large, with more than a million drone owners to register over the course of the next month or so; it was reasonable to guess that the agency wouldn't manage to put together a fully functioning database and registration form in the matter of a couple months.

The site launched Monday as planned, and I was able to register myself within a couple minutes. The form was simple, straightforward, and not all that onerous.

That's not to say it's a perfect system or that the very idea of drone registration is a good or even legal one. Several groups have suggested that they might take legal action against the FAA—the argument is that the FAA Modernization Act of 2012—which gave the agency the latitude to regulate commercial drones—did not give the agency authority to regulate drones flown for hobby purposes only.

The Academy of Model Aeronautics, a large national hobby organization, has told its members not to register yet, and has repeatedly said it's disappointed with the FAA's decision.

Others have said that the FAA may have trouble getting the word out about drone registration, and that the program is doomed to fail unless the vast majority of drone owners decide to register. Christmas is this week and lots of people are going to get drones—will they all know that they need to register them?

It's important to note that this isn't really a "drone registration" program—it's more of a people-who-own-drones registration program. At no point during the process was I asked to provide details about my drone. Instead, I had to give my address and credit card information (you can also register via mail with a money order), which will surely irk some people.

With large private and government database hacks happening seemingly every week, it doesn't seem wise to create yet another one filled with personal information, especially when there's a strong argument that this might not be necessary.

In any case, here's how the process went:

After filling out some personal information and agreeing to the agency's disclaimers, I had to click a box saying I agree to not fly over people, stadiums, or while drunk. It took less than five seconds to read over those "safety guidelines," but that's really the crux of the FAA's program: Make people agree to these guidelines (which are not technically laws) so that they do not have plausible deniability should they decide to do something stupid with a drone.

After giving away my credit card information (registration is free for the first 90 days of the program), I got my drone "registration number," which needs to be written on my drone in a place that is "visible without using tools."

I'm now "in the system," as they say.