5 Things To Know: FAA Task Force Recommends A Drone Registry

24 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

FAA task force aims to register drone hobbyists.

Remote-controlled aircraft larger than 9 ounces — the kind owned by hundreds of thousands of hobbyists — would have to be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration under recommendations described Monday by the leaders of a drone task force. The task force—with included a variety of stakeholders in the drone market from manufacturers to retailers—recommended that drone operators be required to register as such either online or through an app. If one of these newcomers were to do something stupid, like fly a drone over an airport or crash it into a sports stadium, the FAA would have no good way of tracing the errant aircraft back to its reckless owner. “We need a national drone registry,” Huerta shrieked, “and we need it by Christmas. Each aircraft would be marked with a unique number, though not necessarily the serial number, to identify the owner. ​The registry marks the latest balancing act for federal regulators who are trying to keep the skies safe as drones increasingly share the airspace with passenger planes.

Commercial drones, for purposes like aerial photography or utility inspections, are already registered when operators get special permission to fly from FAA. Drone hobbyists would receive a registration certificate and personal registration number that could be used for all the drones they own, rather than requiring them to register their drones one-by-one should they have multiple. The proposed registry would help authorities track down hobbyists if a drone collides with another aircraft, flies too high or encroaches on an airport. Hobbyists balked at the recommendation, saying the weight requirement would encompass drones that are little more than toys, incapable of flying at a height that would interfere with commercial aircraft or pose any other safety hazard.

On Saturday, the panel delivered its final report to Huerta, and its recommendations are good and sensible, meant to encourage compliance by making the registration process simple and free. The Academy of Model Aeronautics, which represents 180,000 hobbyists nationwide and participated in the task force, wanted to file a dissenting opinion and was prevented from doing so, executive director Dave Mathewson said. Instead, it recommended, that drones under 250 grams be excluded from the registration requirement, based on “an assessment of available safety studies and risk probability calculations.” Drones of this size, however, are few and far between, which means that the majority of consumer drones would require registration. As consumer drones have grown in popularity, there has been increased pressure on the FAA and the Department of Transportation to regulate the unmanned aircrafts in the wake of high-profile drone collisions and near accidents—particularly those that have occurred in restricted airspace. “Regulation is good for the industry,” Henri Seydoux, the CEO of Parrot, told FORBES last week. “When you drive a car, you must register it. According to the report, the panel sought “to provide the FAA with a workable solution that met its safety and policy requirements while not unduly burdening the nascent UAS industry and its enthusiastic owners and users of all ages.” On first read, it looks like the final report met both of these goals.

Huerta and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx have said they would like to create a registry by Dec. 20 under a proposed rule still under development. The recommendations are not binding; the FAA will consider the report alongside public comments and other factors before ultimately deciding what the registry will entail. A 2012 law that called for FAA to develop rules for commercial drones explicitly prohibited FAA from regulating “model aircraft” for “hobby or recreational use” that is operating within community-set guidelines.

The drone registry as outlined by the task force’s report might not save the planet—but it’s a significant step toward making the national airspace slightly less chaotic as we move toward our inevitable drone-dense future. This article is part of a Future Tense series on the future of drones and is part of a larger project, supported by a grant from Omidyar Network and Humanity United, that includes a drone primer from New America. But Marc Scribner, a transportation expert at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an advocacy group for limited government, said the registry “will almost certainly result in litigation” because of that 2012 congressional restriction and because registration by itself won’t reduce safety risks from drones.

Recreational drone users under the current laws are merely “encouraged to follow safety guidelines.” These include not flying above 400 feet, within five miles of an airport and not near populous public areas such as stadiums. The comments ran the gamut from urging no registry for recreational drones to urging strict regulation. “I feel registration is a frivolous move to make look like the ‘government’ is doing something about a public safety issue,” Fenner said. “What we do not need is another whole layer of federal (bureaucracy) and personnel to deplete the already overstretched budget.” But Roger Duffell, of Loganville, Ga., said as a licensed pilot who also registered a commercial drone, he supported registration.

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