Drone Registrations Are Still Soaring

January 7, 2017, 1:27 AM UTC
Drone in Flight
Photo by Bruce Bennett — Getty Images

Over the past year, people have registered over 670,000 drones with the federal government, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The number reflects the rapid adoption of drones by hobbyists and a parallel effort by regulators to get them to register those aircraft. The goal is to use the registry as a way to pinpoint bad actors who fly drones in restricted areas like airports and over sports events.

The FAA, with the help of a consortium of aviation experts, government agencies, and companies like Amazon (AMZN) and Google (GOOG), debuted the national drone registration system in December 2015. All owners of drones that meet certain criteria are required to register or risk a fine and jail time.

Michael Huerta, the FAA’s chief administrator, revealed the updated registration number during the annual CES electronics show in Las Vegas on Friday. Of those, 37,000 people registered their drones during the last two weeks of December, he said, a busy time for buying drones because of the holiday season.

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In February 2016, the FAA said that over 325,000 people had registered drones, exceeding the 320,000 piloted aircraft registrations in the FAA’s database. Huerta said that the FAA projects that nearly 7 million drones may be sold in the U.S. by 2020, or “about two-and-a-half times the population of the state of Nevada.”

Huerta also addressed the FAA’s recent ruling that relaxes that rules for companies to legally fly drones for business purposes. An increasing number of companies want to use drones for things like inspecting rooftops for storm damage.

Under the new rules, companies must use a licensed drone operator. Huerta said that over 30,000 people had started the application process.

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As of now, it’s still illegal for companies to fly drones over populated areas unless they seek an exemption from the FAA. Huerta said the FAA is still trying to figure out how to allow for such drone flights while avoiding accidents.

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