Federal Aviation Administration chief Michael Huerta said Wednesday that 181,000 drones have been registered thus far under new rules that require users to provide their information to the federal government and pay a fee to fly the devices.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) is requiring drone users to register their devices by Feb. 19 in a new Web-based tracking system that went online on Dec. 21, 2015.
The agency is imposing a $5 fee for drone registrations, over the objections of drone advocates, but the FAA is waiving the charge for the first 30 days.
"We’re encouraged by the registration numbers we’re seeing so far. As of today, about 181,000 aircraft have been registered," he said.
"But this is just the beginning," Huerta continued. "Now that we have set up the registration system, our challenge is to make sure everyone is aware of the requirement and registers."
Drone users have complained about the fees, labeling them a "drone tax." A drone hobbyist in Silver Spring, Md. has sued the FAA over the rules, arguing the mandate violates a federal law prohibiting the FAA from regulating recreational drones.
The FAA has defended the legality of the system, saying the agency has the authority to regulate all "aircrafts" that are flown in the U.S. The agency has also said the drone registration fee is nominal.
Huerta said in his speech on Wednesday that the drone registration requirement "is all about safety."
"It provides us with a key opportunity to educate the new generation of airspace users that as soon as they start flying outside, they’re pilots," he said. "There are safety implications to how they fly, and there are rules and regulations they must follow.
"It also will help them become part of the safety culture that has been deeply embedded in traditional aviation for more than a century, while still allowing for the recreation and innovation that are staples of American aviation. And, when necessary, registration will help us track down people who operate unsafely."
Huerta added that drone registrations are simple and "mandatory for aircraft that weigh between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds."
"You enter basic information – name, address and email address – into our online system, and read and acknowledge our basic safety guidelines," he said.
"Then you pay $5 – the fee will be refunded if you register by Jan. 20 — and get a registration number," Huerta continued. "Your registration is valid for three years, and you can register an unlimited number of aircraft that you intend to use for recreational purposes."