The Drone Registration Committee Turned in Their Recommendations to the FAA. Now What?

The Drone Registration Committee Turned in Their Recommendations to the FAA. Now What?

I’m not going to cover the legal issues with drone registration that I made in the previous blog post. I will only briefly discuss (1) the recommendations, (2) a few potential problems with the recommendations, and (3) what happens next in the rulemaking process.

The aviation rule making committee’s recommendations on drone registration can be viewed here.

(1) Summary of the Recommendations.

UAS Registration Task Force Aviation Rulemaking Committee Recommendations Summary
What category of UAS is covered by the registration requirement? UAS that weigh under 55 pounds and above 250 grams maximum takeoff weight, and are operated outdoors in the NAS.
Do owners need to register each individual UAS they own? No. The registration system is owner-based, so each registrant will have a single registration number that covers any and all UAS that the registrant owns.
Is registration required at point-of-sale? No. Registration is mandatory prior to operation of a UAS in the NAS.
What information is required for the registration process? Name and street address of the registrant are required.Mailing address, email address, telephone number, and serial number of the aircraft are optional.
Is there a citizenship requirement? No.
Is there a minimum age requirement? Yes. Persons must be 13 years of age to register.
Is there a registration fee? No.
Is the registration system electronic or web-based? The system for entry of information into the database is web-based and also allows for multiple entry points, powered by an API that will enable custom apps to provide registry information to the database and receive registration numbers and certificates back from the database. Registrants can also modify their information through the web or apps.
How does a UAS owner prove registration? A certificate of registration will be sent to the registrant at the time of registration. The certificate will be sent electronically, unless a paper copy is requested, or unless the traditional aircraft registration process is utilized. The registration certificate will contain the registrant’s name, FAA-issued registration number, and the FAA registration website that can be used by authorized users to confirm registration information. For registrants who elect to provide the serial number(s) of their aircraft to the FAA, the certificate will also contain those serial number(s). Any time a registered UAS is in operation, the operator of that UAS should be prepared to produce the certificate of registration for inspection
Does the registration number have to be affixed to the aircraft? Yes, unless the registrant chooses to provide the FAA with the aircraft’s serial number. Whether the owner chooses to rely on the serial number or affix the FAA-issued registration number to the aircraft, the marking must be readily accessible and maintained in a condition that is readable and legible upon close visual inspection. Markings enclosed in a compartment, such as a battery compartment, will be considered “readily accessible” if they can be accessed without the use of tools.

(2) Potential Problems.

Inability for Non-Government Parties to Check.

If registration data is hidden from the public, then how does one check on the recreational individual to make sure they are compliant? It seems that only law enforcement will have access to this database to protect people’s privacy. Local AMA fields won’t have a way to validate compliance.

Validation of the Name and Address.

How does the FAA validate the name and address submitted? If the data that is put in is bad, then the data coming out will be bad. An individual could just put in a false name or address and no one could check unless they went to his address or somehow obtained his driver’s license. Remember that the whole point of registration is to track down the negligent or bad individuals who use a drone. Bad individuals most certainly won’t provide a name and address, unless they were on a one-way mission like the Paris attack. Law enforcement would just run the check and find the false name and false address in the database to match the false name and false registration on the registration paperwork. The FAA will have to go one step further and require that the drone operator be required to (1) possess a valid form of government ID and (2) present it to law enforcement upon request. This will make things harder because the individual will then have to assume an identity and obtain a fake ID, unless he is going on a one-way mission. Remember that Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 that I talked about in the previous blog post prevents the creation of new regulations affecting model aircraft but does not prevent the FAA from using already existing regulations. 14 CFR 61.3(a) says:

(a) Required pilot certificate for operating a civil aircraft of the United States. No person may serve as a required pilot flight crewmember of a civil aircraft of the United States, unless that person: . . .

 (2) Has a photo identification that is in that person’s physical possession or readily accessible in the aircraft when exercising the privileges of that pilot certificate or authorization. The photo identification must be a:

(i) Driver’s license issued by a State, the District of Columbia, or territory or possession of the United States;

(ii) Government identification card issued by the Federal government, a State, the District of Columbia, or a territory or possession of the United States;

(iii) U.S. Armed Forces’ identification card;

(iv) Official passport . . . .

(l)Inspection of certificate. Each person who holds an airman certificate, medical certificate, authorization, or license required by this part must present it and their photo identification as described in paragraph (a)(2) of this section for inspection upon a request from:

(1) The Administrator;

(2) An authorized representative of the National Transportation Safety Board;

(3) Any Federal, State, or local law enforcement officer; or

(4) An authorized representative of the Transportation Security Administration.

The problem with trying to apply this section to recreational flyers is that 61.3(a) applies to individuals with a “pilot certificate” and 61.3(l) applies to individuals who hold an “airman certificate, medical certificate, authorization, or license[.]”

Updating Address. What happens when you move? How many days do you have before you must update your address in the system?

14 CFR 61.60 says, “The holder of a pilot, flight instructor, or ground instructor certificate who has made a change in permanent mailing address may not, after 30 days from that date, exercise the privileges of the certificate unless the holder has notified in writing the FAA, Airman Certification Branch, P.O. Box 25082, Oklahoma City, OK 73125, of the new permanent mailing address, or if the permanent mailing address includes a post office box number, then the holder’s current residential address.

Once again, this regulation applies to individuals with pilot certificates.

(3) So What Happens Now in the Rule making Process?

Here are two graphical depictions of the FAA’s internal and external rule making process. There are many little steps in the external rule making process that are not covered for brevity’s sake. The red arrow stands for where the registration regulations are and the blue arrow depicts where the commercial drone regulations are.

Rule Making Process Flowchart

Rule Making Process Flowchart 1

As you can see, we have a long way to go before any drone registration regulations can come out. To give you an idea of how long the rulemaking process takes, the rulemaking process for the commercial drone regulations (Red Arrow) were started in 2009 and the proposed regulations were only published in February of this year. I estimate that the proposed commercial drone regulations (Red Arrow) will not become final for 1-3 years from now. As of today, I checked the DOT’s significant rulemaking report for November and the proposed commercial drone regulations have not even left the FAA to the DOT.

Regarding the registration regulations (Blue Arrow), I don’t have enough information to guestimate but here is a quote from my upcoming book which will discuss the FAA rulemaking process, “In 2001, before the U.S. House of Representatives Sub-Committee on Aviation, Dr. Dillingham testified on the FAA’s rulemaking efforts in response to congressional mandates or NTSB recommendations between fiscal year 1995 and fiscal year 2000.   He said that after the FAA published an NPRM, the ‘FAA took a median time of approximately 2-½ years to complete the rulemaking, although 20 percent of the rules took 10 years or longer to complete.’”[1]

Hopefully, this clears up any questions you have regarding when this regulation is expected to come out. It does not look like the registration regulations will be cleared for take-off prior to Christmas.

[1] U.S. Gov’t Accountability Office, GAO-01-950T, Incomplete Implementation Impaired FAA’s Reform Efforts 1, 3 (2001).

Jonathan Rupprecht

Jonathan is an aviation attorney who focuses on unmanned aircraft. He holds an FAA Commercial Pilot certificate and is also an FAA certified Flight Instructor.