Speaking at CES today FAA Administrator, Michael Huerta claims 181k model aircraft have already been registered. About 181,000 RPAS registered is an interesting number as it might be all the AMA membership plus about 40k. But of course the AMA is encouraging its members to hold off registering their systems. So it might be fair to suggest that there are more people flying RC outside of the AMA than in it. Every new registration from here on in sort of points that way. Its a big number in a very short time that has surprised me.
Michael Huerta’s speech from CES today.
This is my first visit to CES and as I walked through the convention center floor, I was really struck by the incredible breadth of products that are on display. It’s truly remarkable – and it’s a reminder that we should never underestimate the transformative power of technology.
If you’re around my age, you probably knew someone who, 30 or so years ago, scoffed at the idea that people would ever have a need for personal computers. And just a couple of years ago, few people envisioned the growth we’re seeing today in the recreational use of unmanned aircraft.
We’ve heard various estimates about the number of small drones that would be sold for recreational use this past holiday season. While the numbers vary, it’s clear that retailers expected to sell a significant number. Safely integrating all of these new pilots into our National Airspace System is one of the FAA’s top priorities – to protect manned aircraft, to protect people on the ground, and to protect innovation.
This is not going to be a finite process, where one day we sit back and say OK, we’re done. Maintaining the highest levels of safety requires us to constantly evolve in our approach, whether we’re talking about commercial aircraft like Boeing 747s, or unmanned quadcopters that weigh a few pounds.
Over the past year, working with our government, industry and model aircraft community partners, we have made very significant progress on this front. And the coming year is going to be an exciting and challenging time as we continue to support existing initiatives and implement new ones while leveraging our partners’ energy and creativity to identify even more integration strategies.
We reached one of our most significant integration milestones just before Christmas when we implemented an easy-to-use, web-based drone registration system. The system went live just two months after Secretary Foxx and I announced the initiative.
The speed with which we were able to roll it out is a testament to the commitment and hard work of the diverse task force we set up to help design the system. It’s proof that government, working with private industry, can innovate, cut through red tape, and use technology to tackle emerging challenges.
Four of our task force partners are with us here today. Their collaboration is critical to our ongoing efforts to get the word out about the registration requirement and in promoting safe flying practices.
Simply put, registration is all about safety. It provides us with a key opportunity to educate the new generation of airspace users that as soon as they start flying outside, they’re pilots. There are safety implications to how they fly, and there are rules and regulations they must follow. It also will help them become part of the safety culture that has been deeply embedded in traditional aviation for more than a century, while still allowing for the recreation and innovation that are staples of American aviation. And, when necessary, registration will help us track down people who operate unsafely.
Registration is simple – and it’s mandatory for aircraft that weigh between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds. You enter basic information – name, address and email address – into our online system, and read and acknowledge our basic safety guidelines. Then you pay $5 – the fee will be refunded if you register by January 20th – and get a registration number. Your registration is valid for three years, and you can register an unlimited number of aircraft that you intend to use for recreational purposes.
We’re offering live registration at our UAS booth on the convention center floor in the unmanned systems marketplace, so I encourage you to pay a visit down there.
We’re encouraged by the registration numbers we’re seeing so far. As of today, about 181,000 aircraft have been registered. But this is just the beginning. Now that we have set up the registration system, our challenge is to make sure everyone is aware of the requirement and registers.
Our partnerships – such as Know Before You Fly – are critical.
Know Before You Fly began just 13 months ago as a partnership involving the Association of Unmanned Vehicles International, the Academy of Model Aeronautics and the FAA. Today, it has expanded to include more than 50 members – including 20 that joined in November and December alone.
I want to stress how important this campaign is in spreading the word about safe flying – and the addition of new partners continues to add to its value and reach.
But we also must constantly evolve in our approach and identify new methods of reaching all the new airspace users out there – and new methods of making the registration process even easier for consumers. For example, we are working to support potential third-party applications, such as smart phone apps, that could enable manufacturers or retailers to scan a code on a drone and automatically register it.
You may also be aware that we have been working for the past several months on our own smart phone app, B4UFLY, which tells people about current or upcoming restrictions where they want to fly their unmanned aircraft. We introduced B4UFLY last August for limited beta testing, and we made a number of enhancements to it based on our testers’ feedback.
I am pleased to announce that later today, an updated iOS version of B4UFLY will be available for the general public, free of charge. We’re also going to release an Android version today for beta testing, as we did last year for the iOS version.
The app provides clear direction with a status indicator, which tells the user “Proceed with Caution”, “Warning – Action Required” or “Flight Prohibited.” The app also features a planner mode that allows the user to see if there are any restrictions at a different time and location for an upcoming flight.
Like UAS registration, we expect that B4UFLY will help heighten public awareness about what it means to operate unmanned aircraft safely.
A number of other important developments around education are occurring with our partners that you might not be aware of.
Additional companies are including Know Before You Fly materials in their packaging – joining DJI, Parrot and Yuneec, which began doing so last year.
Retailer Best Buy put Know Before You Fly information on the receipts of everyone who bought drones this past holiday season.
The Consumer Technology Association is leading an effort to standardize unmanned aircraft serial numbers to make it easier to identify specific aircraft. The idea here is to enable a computer app to scan an aircraft serial number and automatically populate the registration file with make, model and serial number without anyone having to manually enter the number into the system. Google and Parrot are partners in this initiative. This might not be glamorous work, but it’s an important part of our work to safely integrate drones.
The FAA also issued important guidance last month to states and municipalities that are considering laws or regulations addressing UAS use. Our guidance explains that any local laws should be consistent with the extensive federal regulatory framework for aircraft and airspace use. It explains that a consistent regulatory system ensures the highest level of safety for all aviation operations.
A lot of our recent public focus has been on recreational drones, but we’ve also been working on a rule that will allow routine, safe commercial and other non-hobby operations of small unmanned aircraft. We expect to finalize the rule in late spring of this year.
Meanwhile, we have authorized more than 3,000 commercial operators on a case-by-case basis, ranging from movie filming and smokestack inspections to aerial photography and land surveying. While we have streamlined the current authorization process, the rule will greatly decrease the need for case-by-case approvals, increasing commercial operators’ ease of access to the National Airspace System.
We’re also going to continue working with our Pathfinder Program industry partners to explore unmanned aircraft operations that go beyond those proposed in the rule. We’re going to take every opportunity to promote our pre-flight safety checklist. And we’re going to do more outreach that is targeted to drone pilots so they’re aware of No Drone Zones for specific events and conditions, such as the Super Bowl and upcoming wildfire season. We want to give pilots the ability to fly safe and smart so they can enjoy all the benefits of their unmanned aircraft.
No initiative is going to be the single solution when it comes to safely integrating unmanned aircraft – be they for commercial or recreational use – into our National Airspace System.
Our job is to create a new culture in aviation so that all users, old and new, understand the importance of operating safely, and know what their responsibilities are. I am confident that, working together with our partners in safety, we will succeed.