On October 19th, in response to media and analyst reports that close to 1 million drones would be sold over the holidays, the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced the creation of a registration task force (RTF) that would create recommendations for the FAA to implement a registration program for small UAS or drones in order to help enforce and track reckless and rogue drone operators. The task force was made up of 25 organizations from the drone and aviation industry, including manufacturers, service providers and trade associations. One day past their mandated deadline, the RTF submitted their recommendations to the FAA on Saturday, November 21st in a document titled Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Registration Task Force (RTF) Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) Task Force Recommendations Final Report.
Side note: The first time an Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) was formed in the early 2000s to address small UAS, the members were from the aviation community and came from both trade associations and industry. However, many feel there was not sufficient representation on that committee from the small UAS (drone) commercial and consumer community. Nearly a decade later, our industry has had a glimpse at what that final rule may look like. When the announcement of the RTF ARC was made, and the members announced, some of the original skepticism about general ARC membership was met with a sigh of relief as representation was quite varied, however the end users and operators of the technology were still heavily underrepresented. Simply a side note: as we continue to see the rule-making process again and again for our industry, we want to make sure we’re lobbying appropriately to ensure all the relevant stakeholders are included in the process.
The Task Force was charged with developing and recommending the following:
- Minimum requirements for UAS that would need to be registered
- Registration process
- Methods for proving registration and marking
Following those guidelines and addressing additional leading questions posed by the FAA, the Task Force generated these high-level summarized recommendations as outlined in their report:
- Fill out an electronic registration form through the web or through an application (app)
- Immediately receive an electronic certificate and a personal universal registration number for use on all sUAS owned by that person
- Mark the registration number (or registered serial number) on all applicable sUAS prior to their operation
Fairly simple and straightforward approach in light of many concerns about the relevance and scalability of the system and ability to be technology-focused as discussed in this Motherboard article in October.
My colleagues at Hogan Lovells created a useful blog post summarizing the key highlights from the RTF recommendations. And as mentioned the most newsworthy recommendation is that drone registration will be required on any aircraft weighing 250 grams (~1/2 pound) or more. The recommendations go into lengthy detail to clarify their process for this conclusion, however they also explicitly state this weight requirement should only be required for registration and any other weight requirements or limitations for other drone rules should be carefully thought out in a more scientific and data-centric manner. In many countries regulations on drone operations hover around a 2kg/4.4 pound threshold, so even the mention of 250 grams is concerning as it has the potential to set precedent.
The recommendations also suggest an easy, online process with immediate receipt of a certificate for proof of registration. The information required would be only name and address with the option to submit more detail if wanted by the operator. Registration was recommended to be free, however if the law requires the FAA to impose a fee, it was suggested that it be nominal.
One owner would be able to register multiple aircraft (instead of individual registrations per drone) which would help streamline the online process for the operator and the operator would also be able to simply affix the registration number to the aircraft or rely on the drone’s serial number.
Overall the recommendations were simple and could be implemented rather easily and effectively. Concerns do still exist, however, on how this would be enforced, how would existing drone operators be reached to make them aware of the new registration requirement, what would the associated penalty be for non-compliance and more.
Congratulations are due to the hard-working task force on creating simple recommendations in a timely manner when consensus amongst such a divergent group is difficult. And now we wait on the FAA to review these recommendations and develop and issue a new rule to see the effects of the work of the task force and to see how registration of drones will ultimately occur.