The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Registration Task Force delivered its much-anticipated recommendations for drone registration to the Federal Aviation Administration on schedule, Nov. 20. The recommendations will likely form the basis for the FAA’s new rules for drone registration, which are slated to go into effect shortly before Christmas 2015.
The recommendations aren’t onerous. While there may be some changes in the final regulations, the task force recommendations urge the FAA to adopt a Web-based application process that would also allow access via applications on mobile phones and other mobile devices. The registration applies to owners of drones, rather than to manufacturers or sellers.
Drone owners would be required to register, but only one registration per owner would be required. The registration would apply regardless of the number of drones a person owns.
The owner would be required to display the registration number somewhere on their drones where it can be seen clearly and where it would not require the use of tools to access. The registration number can be displayed on the outside of the drone’s body, or it can be inside, perhaps inside a battery compartment, provided tools aren’t required to bring it into view.
The task force also recommends that device serial numbers, where they exist, be allowed in drone registration instead of numbers assigned by the FAA. That would mean that if the serial number could be found somewhere on the outside of the drone, or behind a cover that could be opened without tools, then it could be used instead of one assigned by the FAA.
The drone registration, which would apply to any flying object in the national airspace, would apply to any unmanned aircraft weighing more than 250 grams (about 8.8 ounces). The idea behind the specific weight is based on a series of calculations performed by the task force.
You can see the calculations in the report, and they don’t require anything beyond simple math to follow. The assumption is that things weighing less than a half pound aren’t likely to kill anyone if they fall from the sky and they aren’t likely to hurt a jet engine if ingested.
The size rule applies to any drone weighing less than 55 pounds and more than a half-pound. Drones operated only inside buildings aren’t subject to registration because if they fly inside a building, then they’re not in the national airspace.
The task force went to a lot of trouble to make the rules as easy to follow as possible. This is the reason for the Web-based registration recommendation that only asks the owner’s name and address.
While other information can be entered, including an owner’s phone number and email address, and of course the drone’s serial number, all of that is optional. Also optional is the location of the registration number, as long as it can be seen without tools.
Drone Task Force Recommends Simple Registration Process for Owners
There are substantial proposed penalties for operating an unregistered drone, in some cases as high as $25,000 per incident. The idea is to make it unattractive for drone owners to avoid registration. The committee suggested that the FAA not require a registration fee, but said that if one is legally mandated, it should be so small as to make collecting it pointless.
The amount mentioned was one-tenth of a cent. The task force also suggested that the age limit for registration should be 13 and that drone operators younger than that operate with the supervision of their parents or guardians.
The idea behind all of this is to get a handle on the illegal use of drones. This way, the people who fly drones near airliners in flight, or around sporting events could be found and brought to justice. Unfortunately, it does little good if the drone isn’t recovered since there’s no way to read the registration number, assuming that the person doing this actually registers it.
On the other hand, it does give the government one more tool to encourage accountability, since if an owner is caught illegally operating a registered drone, there are significant penalties that can be imposed.
But if someone buys a drone with the idea that they’re going to use it to buzz airliners or crash the U.S. Open, chances are they won’t register. But if they use a drone that had been registered, then it may help find the person who misused it.
In the process of preparing these regulations, the FAA apparently came across a drone registration scam that is widespread enough that the agency felt like it must act. As a result, the FAA issued an announcement about drone registration firms that advertise that they’ll help owners out with the difficult process of getting a drone registered.
The FAA “wants unmanned aircraft owners to know that there’s no need to work with a ‘drone registration’ company to help them file an application for a registration number,” the agency said in a press release issued a few days before the report. The point of the effort by the FAA is that the registration process simply won’t be hard enough to require the help of a third party.
What this means to you is that if you plan to employ drones in your operations, you must register. And if you’re planning to hire someone who will operate drones for you, then you should know that the drone must be registered before it can be used and that a quick inspection of the drone should confirm that it’s registered. And yes, you do want to make sure that any drone associated with your business is registered as required by the law.