FAA to Impose Drone Registration Rules by End of 2015

NEWS ANALYSIS: New rules would apply to current drone owners as well as any new drones and model aircraft sold in the United States.

FAA Drone Rules 2

The problem of irresponsible drone use in the United States has become so bad that the federal government is taking action with uncharacteristic dispatch.

In a news conference at Department of Transportation (DOT) headquarters on Oct. 19, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said that a task force made up of government officials and stakeholder representatives would have a set of recommendations ready by Nov. 20. Those recommendations, which will include requirements for drone registration, would go into effect mid-December 2015.

While the rules still haven't been finalized, Foxx said that the goal of the registration requirement is to allow the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to identify the owners and operators of unmanned aircraft in the U.S. airspace.

He said that the government isn't required to request Congress to pass new laws to make the regulations effective, which will allow for a quick turnaround on the task force's work. Instead, he said that the agency will use the power it already has to regulate safety in aviation.

A large group of organizations have signed on with the DOT and the FAA to help move the registration rules forward, including representatives from drone manufacturers, model aircraft groups and commercial airlines.

The next steps include deciding which types of unmanned aircraft will fall under the requirement of a drone that must be registered, how those registrations will be recorded and how they will be connected to specific drones.

Currently, the FAA is prohibited from creating new rules that would require operators of unmanned aircraft to be licensed if they're used for recreation, although the agency is now requiring that operators of commercial drones hold pilot's licenses.

"Registering unmanned aircraft will help build a culture of accountability and responsibility, especially with new users who have no experience operating in the U.S. aviation system," Foxx said in his prepared remarks at the beginning of the press conference. "It will help protect public safety in the air and on the ground."

However, in his answers to members of the media, Foxx did say that regulators have had trouble tying the drones that are causing problems to the people that are operating them. He also noted that actually finding the drones wasn't a major problem since there are almost always photos or videos of the drone incursions.

Foxx's comment would seem to indicate that one of the registration requirements would be to require some sort of visible registration number on the outside of the unmanned aircraft.

Currently, all civilian manned aircraft are required to display what's called an "N-number" on the sides and wings of a fixed wing aircraft, or just on the sides of an aircraft without wings (such as a helicopter).

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...