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Start date for required unmanned aircraft registration announced

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - A registration system required for small unmanned aircraft used for hobby and recreational purposes will go live next week, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Monday.

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GRAND FORKS, N.D. โ€“ A registration system required for small unmanned aircraft used for hobby and recreational purposes will go live next week, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Monday.

The launch of the system, aimed at aircraft weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds, comes in response to their growing popularity and in time for the holiday season when thousands of the devices are expected to be given as gifts. The technology is popping up on gift guides and ranges from $90 replicas of Star Wars' iconic Millennium Falcon to quadcopters topping $1,000. No matter what the shape or price, owners will be required by federal law to register their hobby aircraft starting Dec. 21.

Upon completing the registration process, an owner will receive a certificate of registration and an identification number that is valid for three years and covers all aircraft in his or her possession.

A name, address and email are required for registration, and an owner must be 13 years of age or older.

Local members of the unmanned aircraft systems industry previously said registering hobby aircraft would establish a level of accountability by creating a potential means for law enforcement and others to track down recreational aircraft operators.

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Bob Becklund, executive director for the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in Grand Forks, said Monday the announcement is good news.

"It forces people to be aware that they're operating in an airspace that is controlled by a federal agency, the FAA, and it's shared by other users - manned and unmanned," he said.

The registration likely won't have an impact on those flying unmanned aircraft for commercial or research purposes, such as the test site and the University of North Dakota, as they already are required to register their aircraft with the FAA.

Those operating unmanned aircraft recreationally prior to Dec. 21 must register no later than Feb. 19, 2016. Owners of aircraft purchased after Dec. 21 must register before the first flight outdoors, the FAA said.

A $5 fee will be charged to those registering their aircraft, though the FAA is waiving that fee from Dec. 21 to Jan. 20, 2016.

Mixed response

The format of the registration system has received mixed reviews among industry groups.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International said the system will promote responsibility and safety among hobbyists.

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The Academy of Model Aeronautics expressed disappointment and called the registration format an "unnecessary burden" to its members in a statement released Monday.

In its statement, AMA did acknowledge there is the potential for thousands of new flyers to enter the airspace after the holidays but there should be a continued focus on educating operators through efforts such as the Know Before You Fly campaign.

"Education programs like these are one of the best ways to ensure the safety of our airspace," AMA Executive Director Dave Mathewson said.

The campaign seeks to educate commercial, recreational and public agency users of unmanned aircraft about the basics of safely and legally flying these devices.

Both AMA and AUVSI work with the campaign and also had representatives on a task force that shaped recommendations for the registration system.

The task force forwarded those recommendations to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx for review last month.

The push for registration comes as safety concerns regarding operators that are flying where they shouldn't be or losing control and crashing their devices continue to make headlines in the United States.

"Make no mistake: Unmanned aircraft enthusiast are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility," Foxx said in a statement Monday.

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On the Web

Owners may register through a web-based system starting Dec. 21 at: www.faa.gov/uas/registration . All users of unmanned aircraft are encouraged by the FAA to visit  www.knowbeforeyoufly.org  for more information about flying safely.

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