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FAA Says Nearly 300,000 Drone Owners Have Registered in First 30 Days

The Federal Aviation Administration says it's encouraged by the number of people who have registered their drones in a federal database.

Nearly 300,000 owners have registered their small unmanned aircraft in the first 30 days after the FAA introduced an online registration system on Dec. 21, the agency said. Thursday was the last day to register without having to pay a $5 fee.

"The registration numbers we're seeing so far are very encouraging," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said Friday in a press release. "We're working hard to build on this early momentum and ensure everyone understands the registration requirement."

The rule applies to drones that weigh between 0.55 and 55 pounds.

People who operated their small unmanned aircraft before the registration system went live on Dec. 21 must register by Feb. 19.

The FAA says the new rules are needed to make the skies safer from errant drones that have been flying too close for comfort to commercial airplanes or crashing into places where they're not supposed to be (like the White House lawn or near the president's motorcade).

Related: Why FAA Registration Might Not Make Drones Much Safer

The new rule only applies to small UAVs used for recreational or hobby purposes. The FAA is still working on flight rules for commercial drone operators and hopes to have a system in place by the spring.

Drone owners who fail to register could face civil fines and criminal penalties that include up to three years in prison.

Drone grounded for flying near President Obama's motorcade in Hawaii 0:30

It's not known exactly how many drone owners there are in the U.S. but hobbyists were projected to buy as many as 700,000 drones in 2015, many of them during the holiday shopping season, according to industry estimates.

Not everyone is happy with the way the rules have been written.

John Taylor, a Maryland lawyer and drone hobbyist, has sued the FAA, arguing the federal agency overstepped its authority in mandating the new registry. And the Retail Industry Leaders Association, a leading trade group, has argued that retailers selling the gadgets should be exempt from the requirement.

Drone owners can register at: www.faa.gov/uas/registration.