Spurred by numerous reports of drones flying near jets and airports, the federal government will require that the aircraft be registered to make it easier to identify owners and educate amateur aviators.
The move, announced Monday by the Federal Aviation Administration, comes at a time when the agency is receiving more than 100 reports per month about drones flying near manned aircraft. The FAA prohibits drones and model airplanes from flying higher than 400 feet or within 5 miles of an airport.
Drones have become increasingly popular with hobbyists. The FAA estimates that 1.6 million small unmanned aircraft will be sold this year, with half during the last three months of the year.
The drones must be marked with the owner's unique registration number. The FAA said that would let authorities track down owners if they violate the rules. But registration also gives the agency a vehicle to educate owners just as thousands get drones as presents for Christmas and other holidays.
The requirement covers aircraft weighing from more than half pound up to 55 pounds, including any payload such as a camera. Drone owners who are 13 and older will have to register on an FAA website that becomes available starting Dec. 21. The FAA expects parents to register for younger children.
Registration will cost $5 and must be renewed every three years, but the fee will be waived for the first 30 days, until Jan. 20. Owners will have to mark aircraft with an identification number. Recreational fliers can register as many aircraft as they want on one registration number.
Most people who fly drones and model aircraft have little aviation experience, but they become pilots as soon as they start to fly, said Deputy FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker. "They have the responsibility to fly safely, and there are rules and regulations that apply to them," he said.
Those who got drones before Dec. 21 must register by Feb. 19. People who buy them later must register before their first outdoor flight.
Owners will have to provide their name, home address and email, and their identity will be verified and payments made by credit card, the agency said.
Nathan Grigerek is a drone enthusiast who has no problems with registering his -- he likes the idea.
"It's a good way to regulate…make sure people are using them responsibly,” said Grigerek.
But others, like John Hinton, who owns a hobby shop in Richardson, thinks it's an overreaction to the misdeeds of a relative few.
“Those who don't care, like with anything, they aren't going to care to register,” said Hinton. “And again, you're only going to be harming those who actually are law abiding citizens.”
Professional photographer Rick Yeatts sees the need because he sees so many drone operators violating the 400-foot limit and the five-mile no fly zones around airports.
"It's being violated all the time, and with the registration, that will bring more accountability and the FAA will have recourse,” said Yeatts.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.