If Santa brought you a drone for Christmas, there are a number of steps you need to take before using your new toy.
The Consumer Technology Association, a Virginia-based trade association, predicts the sale of drones in the United States will top 2.8 million units this year — a 149 percent increase over last year. And revenue from the sale of drones is expected to reach $953 million, a 115 percent increase over 2015.
Drone hobbyists are required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to register their "unmanned aircraft system." Since last December, the FAA registered more than 616,000 owners and individual drones. The agency requires drones weighing more than 0.55 pounds (or 250 grams) and less than 55 pounds (about 25 kilograms) to be registered.
Hobbyists pay a $5 fee, which lasts for three years. In return, their drone receives an identification number, which is especially important in case your drone goes missing or causes an accident.
Those registering drones must be at least 13 years old and a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident.
Part of the registration process involves applicants reading and acknowledging basic safety practices. The FAA sees registration "as an excellent way to give [owners] a sense of responsibility and accountability for their actions."
Here's hoping drone owners are diligent in that regard, and don't treat FAA safety information the way most people treat warranties for their large appliances. (Seriously, have you read the small print?)
In general, drones must be flown below 400 feet and kept within sight of the operator. Flying drones near other aircraft or airports is a non-starter, too. So is flying over groups of people, over stadiums or sporting events, or near emergency-response efforts. The FAA also discourages flying your drone while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Rick Braunig, manager of aviation safety and enforcement for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), says there are a number of smartphone applications that can help drone operators navigate airspace. Among them is the FAA's free app, B4UFLY, which advises users about restrictions in areas of the National Airspace System.
Although MnDOT does not regulate drone hobbyists, the department is working to educate the public about the smart use of drones, Braunig said. He notes a jet or a helicopter could be "taken out" by a wayward drone.
Plus, some towns have banned the devices. St. Bonifacius, a small community of about 2,300 people in western Hennepin County, banned the use of drones from its airspace, mostly due to privacy concerns.
In addition, drone enthusiasts should probably check their insurance before taking flight, according to the Insurance Information Institute, a New York-based industry group.
What happens if your drone goes awry and injures someone or damages property? "After all, most drone and model aircraft operators start out with little or no aviation experience," the institute notes.
In general, drones are most likely covered under a homeowner's or renter's insurance policy — subject to a deductible, of course. The liability portion of your homeowner's or renter's insurance policy may cover you for lawsuits for injuries and property damage caused by drones, the institute says.
Still, it's best to check with your insurance company.
For more information about drones, go to: faa.gov/uas