The Federal Aviation Administration has released a database revealing the number of registered drone operators in each community, and Texas ranks second behind only California in the number of drone operators.
The newly released numbers indicate U.S. drone registrations now total more than 450,000, up from the 325,000 registrations counted in February 2016. That's 130,000 more registrations than the total number of piloted aircraft currently registered with the FAA, and the drone numbers could actually be higher, since one registration entry covers all of the drones a registrant owns.
Earlier this year, NBC 5 Investigates submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the FAA, asking for copies of the list of registered drone operators to see just how many people have been complying with the FAA rules directive to register their drones. In response to our requests and those of others, the database was posted online, searchable by city, state and ZIP code. The names of the drone registrants, street addresses and serial numbers of the devices are not included in the database because they believe the data is exempt from public disclosure to protect the privacy of those who register, many of whom they state are minors and hobbyists or recreational users.
Mid-States FAA Public Affairs Manager Lynn Lunsford says the registration effort, which began in December 2015, is being used as a way to educate a new group of aviators about how to operate safely in the world's busiest and most complex airspace system.
The rules affect drones that weigh more than half a pound and less than 55 pounds, and further require that those drones must be registered before flying. The rules were created in response to concerns that the flying devices have the potential to dangerously interfere with aircraft and possibly violate people's privacy.
Since opening the online registration process, there have been an increasing number of reported drone incidents nationwide, including several in Dallas-Ft. Worth, that include drones flying within controlled airport properties, some close enough for airline pilots taking off or landing to report physical descriptions of the drones to the tower air traffic controllers. They were so close to their aircraft that radioed descriptions included drone markings or specific colors. Incidents like those fuel pilot concerns that a wayward device could cause problems for aircraft serious enough to cause a crash. With the drone registration program, the FAA could track down registered operators who fly drones dangerously or who may have caused a crash.
The registration process costs $5 and can be completed online. Drones that weigh more than 55 pounds or those used for commercial purposes still need to be registered using the older paper-based system.
Not every drone has to be registered. Most toy drones available for purchase less than $100 likely don't weigh enough to require registration, however, if you are using the drone to carry a camera, the total weight of the camera and the drone count toward the minimum weight requirement.
Even though the FAA does not have criminal enforcement authority, there are teeth in the FAA rules, with criminal penalties for flying an unregistered drone including up to three years in jail and possible fines of up to $250,000 upon conviction. In an email late Monday afternoon to NBC 5 Investigates, the FAA's Laura Brown advised that she is unaware of any civil enforcement cases (fines) filed for failure to register.
Total hobbyist registrations recorded in the database now number more than 450,000. The FAA drone database published for registrations to May 12, 2016, shows California leading the country in registrations with 57,953, nearly 20,000 more than Texas at 36,704, Florida at 35,170 and New York with 21,649.
The following list shows a few of the Texas cities in the database, and the number of registered drone operators in that city:
- Houston: 3,058
- Austin: 2,061
- San Antonio: 1,762
- Dallas: 1,340
- Fort Worth: 1,117
- Plano: 562
- El Paso 433
- Frisco: 410
- McKinney: 403
- Garland: 252
- Allen: 225
- Irving: 228
- Grand Prairie: 221
- Flower Mound: 220
- Denton: 181
- Rockwall: 139
- Southlake: 116
Don’t see your favorite city/state? The complete database is available on the FAA website.