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Sunday, April 2, 2023

Planning a Drone as a Holiday Gift? FAA Task Force Calls for UAS Registration

During this holiday season, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates as many as 700,000 unmanned aerial aircraft (UAS) will be sold. However, if you find yourself unwrapping a drone underneath the Christmas tree this year, the proposed regulations will require that you register your new drone before taking it out for a spin.

The FAA released a report on Monday outlining the recommendations for registration issued by a UAS Registration Task Force created by FAA Administrator Michael Huerta in October to develop a national drone registry. The group has held several meetings over the past two months to determine the best way to register aircraft under 55 pounds.

The Task Force included representatives from federal agencies, an airline pilots association, technology companies, and drone manufacturers. The group is co-chaired by Earl Lawrence, Director of the FAA’s UAS Integration Office, andDave Vos of Google X.

With the surge in drone popularity, pilots have reported an increase in close calls between planes and drones, with nearly 700 incidents reported in this year alone. In 2014, the number of close calls was only at 238.

“These incidents make it clear: we must work harder to ensure a strong culture of safety and responsibility among unmanned aircraft enthusiasts,” Huerta said in announcing the first meeting of the Task Force.

To rein in drone misuse, the FAA has been exploring new ways to safely regulate drones while not preventing the commercial UAS industry from taking off. Drone registration is one of the tools the FAA plans to use to safety integrate UAS into US airspace.

The Task Force recommended a free, owner-based registration system with a single registration number for each registrant. The proposed registration process would require the following steps:

  • Fill out an electronic registration form through the web or through an application.
  • Immediately receive an electronic certificate of registration and a personal universal registration number for use on all small UAS owned by that person.
  • Mark the registration number (or registered serial number) on all applicable small UAS prior to their operation in the national airspace.

“Any registration steps more burdensome than these three simple steps may jeopardize the likelihood of widespread adoption and would undermine the overall registration philosophy that enabled the Task Force to come to consensus,” the report stated.

Additionally, provision of email address, telephone number and serial number of the aircraft into the system would be optional. Information on US citizenship or residence status would not be required, but there would be a minimum age requirement of 13 years to register.

The Task Force recommended an exclusion from the registration requirement for any small UAS weighing a total of 250 grams or less.

It is also worth noting that the Task Force agreed that it was outside the scope of the group’s objectives to debate or discuss the Department of Transportation Secretary’s decision to require registration of small UAS or the legal authority for the implementation of such a mandate.

According to Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) transportation policy expert Marc Scribner, the FAA lacks jurisdiction to mandate registration for all UAS. In the comments CEI submitted to the FAA, Scribner explained Congress has prohibited the FAA from promulgating rules targeting small UAS hobbyists.

In the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (“FMRA”) Section 336, Congress stated that “the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft,” provided conditions such as UAS weight and strict hobbyist use are met.

Congress then defined “model aircraft” under Section 336 as “an unmanned aircraft that is capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere, flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft, and flown for hobby or recreational purposes.”

Scribner also believes registration will do little to mitigate UAS safety risks. He said registration itself will not incentivize drone users to implement safer flying procedures, since registration numbers will be essentially invisible to those who observe—either from on the ground or in the cockpit—a reckless or malicious UAS operation and then seek to report it to authorities.

“Although registration can support enforcement efforts for UAS that crash, mere registration will neither enable identification of a host of potential reckless or malicious UAS operators, nor will it prevent reckless and malicious operations,” Scribner said.

Finally, when Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the creation of the UAS Registration Task Force on October 19, he stated he would seek to impose the mandatory UAS registration rule by mid-December. However, the mid-December deadline does not allow for the minimum 30 day notice and comment period required by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

The APA good clause exemption only allows agencies to waive this period when “notice and public procedure thereon are impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest.” Although the FAA will presumably argue that delaying the rule poses a safety risk, Scribner states that arguing for good cause in this case is unwarranted because mere registration will not significantly mitigate UAS safety risks.

“FAA should not attempt to circumvent APA rulemaking requirements by invoking the good cause exception,” Scribner said. “Hiding behind an interim final rule while promising to take into account public comments in the future does not serve the public interest.”

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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