Drone Owners Who Don’t Register with FAA Could Face Big Fines

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SACRAMENTO --

If you're flying anything that weighs more than half a pound, the government now wants to know about it. The Federal Aviation Administration is requiring drone owners to sign up online in response to an increase in the number of drones flying near manned aircraft and airports.

At R/C Country Hobbies on Folsom in Sacramento, employee Rob Watkins said drones have been flying off the shelves this week, most bought as holiday gifts.

"This morning we were quite busy, people are purchasing things," Watkins told FOX40.

Across the country, the FAA has estimated around 700,000 new drones could hit the skies after the holidays. With so many near misses with helicopters and airplanes, including a CHP helicopter almost hitting one during a high speed pursuit in Martinez this month, the government is playing catch up with regulating the hobby.

"I don't know if the regulations are going to prevent any accidents from happening," Watkins said, adding he understands why the registration is necessary.  "They are looking at that as an avenue to track people down that are flying unsafely."

However, some drone pilots told FOX40 getting onto the FAA's website Monday was easier said than done.

"Went on at 7 a.m. this morning, and I looked everywhere on that website, and there was no place for me to sign up at all. Later on, at about 12 o'clock, we looked on the Internet again, and there was no way, no place to sign up," said John Vance, who also works at R/C Country Hobbies and flies drones as a hobby.

But FAA Public Affairs Manager for the Pacific Division Ian Gregor told FOX40 earlier Monday, some servers were getting the information more quickly than others, so some users could log in while others couldn’t. But Gregor said the problem has since been fixed.

Still other drone users may not comply.

"Some of the guys I fly with, they think it's no big deal, and they're going to register, other guys are just, no I'm not going to do it," Watkins said.

But according to a 195-page document released by the FAA, not registering could be costly.

"$27,500 fine and up to three years in jail," Watkins told FOX40.

The registration fee is $5, with renewals every three years. But those who register before Jan. 1 will have that fee waived. And the registration is one per drone owner not per actual drone.