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FAA requires toy drone owners to register aircraft

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Drone users flying their aircraft for fun are subject to a not-so-fun federal requirement: Register their drone or face hefty fines, according to a new law.

Recreational drone users will have to provide their name, physical address, email address and a credit card payment of $5 for user authentication purposes, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Owners who pay the registration fee between Dec. 21 and Jan. 20 can be reimbursed for it, according to the FAA.

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If they don't register, they could have to pay civil penalties of up to $27,500 or criminal penalties including fines of up to $250,000 and possibly three years imprisonment, according to the agency.

"We're kind of in the Wild West when it comes to drones," said Clay Coleman an oceanic air traffic controller supervisor at the FAA and director of the Bay Area Drone Film Festival.

"People can buy a drone, have it delivered to their house tomorrow and be flying it within 15 minutes. And a lot of people that are doing this have no idea about airspace and about the problems that they can cause getting too close to manned aircraft and flying where they're not supposed to be flying ... it's just a matter of time in this scenario before somebody gets hurt or even worse," Coleman said in an interview with CNBC.

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Drones should fly at an altitude below 400 feet; they should be in sight at all times; they shouldn't be flown near manned aircraft; and should never be flown over groups of people or emergency response events, according to the FAA's website.

Specific rules for commercial drone use, which include any use for a profit, are expected in the summer of 2016, said Gretchen West, senior advisor at law firm Hogan Lovells, in an interview.

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In the meantime, commercial drone users register their aircraft with the FAA by obtaining a Section 333 exemption from the agency, and the person flying the drone is required to have a pilot's license, according to the FAA.

In 2015, an estimated 700,000 drones are expected to be shipped in the United States, a 63 percent increase from 2014, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.