The Federal Aviation Administration has released its long-awaited rules for registration of drones and other unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), but the new rules are written to apply to private users, not businesses.
But there are important reasons to be aware of the requirement for drone registration, including the fact that another set of impending rules, this time for commercial use, could be a lot like the rules released on Dec. 14.
It’s also likely that at least some drone operations contractors will buy consumer drones and use them commercially, so you should be aware of the rules for registration for your own protection.
The registration rules go into effect on Dec. 21. After that operators of drones weighing more than 250 grams (8.8 ounces) but less than 55 pounds must obtain a registration number from the FAA website. The rules apply to current UAS operators and to those who get drones or other unmanned aircraft after that date. Current owners of model airplanes have until February to register.
According to Zachary Ludens, an attorney with Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, which works with companies to figure out how to deploy UASs legally, the new registration rules deserve attention. “It is telling what the FAA is likely doing in other spaces as well,” he said. He said that it’s possible that the FAA may allow commercial users to have a single registration for all of its drones, for example.
In addition, the FAA has said that it plans to add commercial drones to the new Web-based registration system in the near future to streamline the current paper-based system. It’s also likely that the new system for drone identification will also make its way to commercial uses. This would mean that a drone would only have to have the registration number visible somewhere on the body of the drone where it could be seen without tools.
The FAA explains in its FAQ‘s that the registration must be on the device, including in the battery compartment if that can be opened without tools. The registration number must be permanent, but that it can be on the device any way that works, including written on with a marker, attached with a label or engraved. So, yes, you can write it on with your Sharpie, assuming someone else can read your handwriting.
If a drone isn’t registered, the FAA can assess a fine of up to $27,500 for violation of the rules. They can also take your drone.
New FAA Drone Rules to Have Limited Impact on Business Users
It’s worth noting that the flight rules for commercial drones also are similar to those for private users, including the fact that they can’t fly higher than 400 feet, must be flown within sight of the operator and that various no-fly restrictions must be honored. In addition, commercial drone operators are required to have a pilot’s license.
The reason for the added requirements for commercial drones are fairly obvious, considering the level of complexity required for some commercial drone operations. “Imagine being able to move a defibrillator faster than ever,” said Hulsey Smith, Chairman and CEO of Aero Kinetics, explaining how drones can save lives.
“Or imagine construction workers not having to climb ladders to inspect a roof after a hail storm, or to do tower inspections or to inspect bridges, cranes or wind turbines. Imagine not having to ask someone to do those things and not having to be in harm’s way,” Smith said.
Aero Dynamics manufactures commercial drones that typically weigh under 55 pounds. The company was the first to apply for type-acceptance of such devices and follows the commercial registration rules already in place. Smith said that while many companies are using consumer and hobby drones for commercial work, such a choice can be extremely dangerous.
However just because it’s a bad idea, that doesn’t mean that some companies won’t do it. In fact, consumer drones are routinely used by some companies to inspect cell towers, construction sites, mining sites and wind turbines, among other uses. While there’s probably no way for you to know for sure whether the drone that a contractor is planning to use when performing work for you is registered for commercial use, there has to be a registration number of every drone you’re likely to see, which means you should ask to see it.
Unfortunately, the new drone registration rules aren’t necessarily going to make you safer or your job easier and even if everyone follows the law, it won’t have an immediate impact on your business. But it will give you a way to find out if the drone someone is planning to use at your site meets at least some minimal requirements.
In addition, the new drone registration rules give you a good idea of what to expect for the soon-to-be announced commercial registration rules. However, at this point commercial registration requires the submission of a paper form and a request for exemption from existing drone rules. Once the commercial rules are published, at least it will be easier and faster, as long as your drone meets the new requirements.