The Federal Aviation Administration appeared unprepared to accommodate the flood of new drone owners during the holiday season after requiring that Americans register their drones before lift off.
The FAA shut down its registration page twice within two days after it launched last Monday because of high traffic.
The FAA said last week an “overwhelming number of people” successfully registered, but “a small number of users reported performance issues,” driving the site operators to temporarily suspend online registration for maintenance.
The agency received more than 45,000 applications during the first two days of registration.
Jason Snead, a policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, faulted the agency for rushing the drone registry site’s launch a few days before Christmas despite the projected uptick in drone purchases.
“Since the FAA has now imposed outrageously steep criminal and civil penalties for flying an unregistered drone, if the site crashes or new drone owners can’t register, they have only two options: sit on their Christmas gift until the government gets its act together, or commit a felony by flying what amounts to a toy around their yard,” Snead said.
The Consumer Technology Association predicted 400,000 drones would be purchased during the holidays.
The anticipated surge in drone ownership pushed the FAA’s two-month-old drone registry task force to recommend in late November that the agency establish a registration system to track those who own an unmanned aircraft system.
The FAA launched its drone registry Dec. 21, requiring that anyone who owns an aircraft weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds register it with the federal government before launching it into flight.
Those who operated a drone prior to Dec. 21 must register by Feb. 19.
Owners who miss the deadline or fly their drones before registering could be thrown into jail for up to three years or slapped with a criminal fine costing up to $250,000.
Snead called the punishments “absurdly steep,” noting that owners were given only seven days after the FAA announced its new regulations Dec. 15 to study and adjust to the new rules.
The spike in unauthorized drone sightings and the rising number of near collisions between unmanned aircraft and civilian planes drove the FAA to hastily establish its drone task force so that new regulations could be implemented before the holiday season.
The Consumer Technology Association commended the task force’s recommendations for aiming to regulate drone safety.
But Snead said the new policy would likely do little to prevent careless or ill-intentioned drone owners from flying their aircraft into restricted airspace. The policy would also be limited in helping law enforcement track illegal drones, he added, because illicit aircraft would likely not be registered in the system.
“The FAA’s registry is an ineffective rush job and should be rescinded before it traps otherwise innocent drone owners in the web of overcriminalization,” he said.
The agency is not releasing the number of drones registered until free registration ends Jan. 20, the New York Daily News reported.
Registration will cost $5 after the registration period’s initial 30 days.