Hobbyists Upset at New Federal Drone Registration Rules

Drone lobby groups are divided on new rules from the Department of Transportation that will require even backyard hobbyists to register their unmanned aircraft with the federal government.

The DOT announced a registration process that would be less “onerous” for small-drone owners and the Federal Aviation Administration, arguing that registration is necessary as 2015 sales estimates for small drones hover around 1.6 million.

“The risk of unsafe operation will increase as more small unmanned aircraft enter the [national airspace]. Registration will provide a means by which to quickly identify these small unmanned aircraft in the event of an incident or accident involving the sUAS. Registration of small unmanned aircraft also provides an immediate and direct opportunity for the agency to educate sUAS owners on safety requirements before they begin operating,” states the DOT rule.

Brian Wynne, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), said the final rule “will lead to increased accountability across the entire aviation community.”

“Under the FAA’s proposed small UAS rule released earlier this year, commercial operators would be required to register their platforms,” Wynne said. “Extending this requirement to consumer UAS operators will help promote responsibility and safety.”

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Registration Task Force delivered recommendations to the administrator of the FAA last month. Wynne said task force members “worked diligently to resolve their differences and find solutions that allow for the growth and development of UAS industry while providing increased accountability.”

Another member of that task force, the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which represents drone hobbyists, was not happy with the results.

Dave Mathewson, executive director of AMA, said his group “argued that registration makes sense at some level and for UAS flyers operating outside the guidance of a community-based organization or flying for commercial purposes.”

“Unfortunately, the new rule is counter to Congress’s intent in the Special Rule for Model Aircraft and makes the registration process an unnecessary burden for our more than 185,000 members who have been operating safely for decades,” Mathewson said.

“The Special Rule for Model Aircraft in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 clearly states that the FAA is prohibited from promulgating any new rules for recreational users operating within the safety guidelines of a community-based organization (CBO). Meanwhile, the FAA’s contention that model aircraft should be considered aircraft is currently the subject of pending litigation. Congress by no means intended to grant a free pass to flyers within this system. Instead, it left risk mitigation and the development of appropriate safety guidelines to organizations like AMA.”

Mathewson argued a “voluntary, community-based approach to managing recreational flyers is highly effective.”

“Our members follow a comprehensive set of safety and privacy guidelines, which are constantly evolving to accommodate new technologies and new modeling disciplines,” he said.

Both groups have been working with the FAA on its Know Before You Fly drone education campaign.

Wynne said AUVSI is “hopeful” that same sense of urgency around the small-drones rule “will be applied to the larger issues we must address for our industry.”

“While the creation of a registration system is an important step to enhance safety, the FAA must continue its work to integrate UAS into the national airspace, starting by finalizing the small UAS rule. Putting the rule in place will provide the necessary tools and training to create a culture of safety that will help deter careless and reckless behavior,” he said.

“The FAA’s small UAS rulemaking has been beset by several delays. Considering that safety is at stake, we cannot afford to continue waiting. The FAA needs to make UAS integration a top priority.”