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Critics assail FAA 'drone tax'

Critics assail FAA 'drone tax'
© Greg Nash

Critics of the Federal Aviation Administration are assailing what they call a new "drone tax," a requirement that drone users pay a fee and register their devices with the federal government.

The FAA said Monday that drone users will have to pay a $5 fee to register their devices by Feb. 19 as part of a new Web-based tracking system. The requirement will take effect Dec. 21. 

The agency is imposing what it calls a "nominal fee" over the objections of drone advocates. The fee is waived for 30 days after Dec. 21.

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The Arlington, Va.-based Consumer Technology Association, a member of the task force that helped set up the tracking system, criticized the expense.

"We appreciate the FAA's decision to embrace many of the Task Force's recommendations regarding a consumer drone registration system," Douglas Johnson, the group's vice president of technology policy, said in a statement. "However, we disagree with the decision to impose a five-dollar registration fee — a 'drone tax,' which will hamper registration and discourage compliance." 

Transportation Department officials have said the registration system and $5 charge are necessary because of the spike in drone use.

“Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiasts are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility,” Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony FoxxFeds order DC Metro to take new safety actions Emanuel flips the bird when asked about 2020 Feds push for more transparency over in-flight phone calls MORE said in a statement. “Registration gives us an opportunity to work with these users to operate their unmanned aircraft safely. I’m excited to welcome these new aviators into the culture of safety and responsibility that defines American innovation.”

Drone advocates had urged the Obama administration not to impose registration fees, arguing doing so would deter drone operators from complying with the new requirements. 

"To be successful, an efficient drone registration system with widespread compliance must be simple, easy and free," the Consumer Technology Association said last week before the charge was announced publicly. 

"Even a small fee — essentially a drone tax — could undermine the FAA's objective of widespread compliance and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx's goal of associating a drone with an owner as often as possible," the group continued. 

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta has said his agency is launching the registration system ahead of the holiday season because drone sales are expected to be brisk.

“We expect hundreds of thousands of model unmanned aircraft will be purchased this holiday season,” Huerta said. “Registration gives us the opportunity to educate these new airspace users before they fly so they know the airspace rules and understand they are accountable to the public for flying responsibly.” 

The CTA said it is on board with the administration's efforts to reign in drones that could interfere with commercial airplanes, but the group said the rules still have to make sense for drone users. 

Johnson said the FAA should focus on finalizing its broader drone rules before state and local governments feel the need to weigh in. 

"As our nation develops a policy framework that upholds safety, protects innovation, and advances entrepreneurialism and economic growth in this amazing new market, the myriad of misaligned and conflicting local rules now emerging across the country threatens to throttle this nascent technology," he said.

"Local government leaders and elected officials are rightly addressing the importance of safe drone usage and dangers of flying drones carelessly," Johnson continued. "But the United States must avoid a sloppy patchwork of rules that confuses casual hobbyists and commercial operators alike, and undercuts federal and industry UAS safety initiatives. We eagerly await FAA's overdue rules, now expected in the first half of 2016, for commercial drone operations in the U.S."