If found guilty, you face three years’ imprisonment with possible civil fines of $27,500 and criminal sanctions of $250,000.
This week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Michael Huerta, celebrated a successful launch of his agency’s new drone owners’ registry.
Since Dec. 21, 181,000 Americans have provided FAA bureaucrats with their names and addresses, identifying themselves as owners of a drone weighing 0.55 pounds or more. This is, they say, an important milestone for a registry that will promote safety and accountability, and deter bad actors.
But while federal officials took a victory lap, they left a critical detail unsaid: Thanks to the FAA’s rushed regulatory action, many thousands of otherwise innocent Americans have just been made criminals.
How so? Per the FAA’s new registry requirement, it is a felony offense merely to fail to register before your first flight if you own a drone that meets the weight threshold. If found guilty, you face three years’ imprisonment with possible civil fines of $27,500 and criminal sanctions of $250,000.
While the FAA touts the fact that more than 180,000 Americans have registered as recreational drone owners, 400,000 drones were sold this holiday season alone. Some of that large gap can be explained by the fact that not every drone weighs enough to trigger the registry. Yet many of the most popular models of quadcopter, like the “DJI Phantom,” and the “Parrot Ar.Drone,” do.
It is reasonable to conclude that a substantial number of new drone owners, whom the FAA has decreed must register, have failed to do so.
If they are also flying their drones, even if only above their own yard, mere feet off the ground, they can be prosecuted. If found guilty, they face absurdly steep penalties that were originally developed to deter drug smugglers and tax evaders who did not register full-blown aircraft.
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