United States: Registration Task Force Recommendations Met With Mixed Reactions From Drone Community

Last Updated: December 9 2015
Article by Jason J. Zummo


In a much-anticipated announcement, an FAA-created task force, with input from drone industry leaders, issued to the FAA their recommendations for the creation of a registration process for small drones used for commercial and recreational purposes. It is anticipated that the FAA will adopt these recommendations and issue final rules requiring registration by mid-December through its "emergency" rulemaking power under the Administrative Procedure Act.

Since the task force's creation in October, the drone community has been eagerly awaiting these recommendations. In particular, hobbyists and recreational users have had the most cause for concern as "model aircraft" – drones used recreationally – have not previously been subject to any registration requirements.

In summary, the task force recommends:

  • The registration requirements will cover all drones that weigh less than 55 pounds, well, technically less than 55 pounds and above 250 grams (.55 pounds). In practice the 250 gram exemption is irrelevant since most drones weigh more than that.
  • Drone owners do not need to register each individual drone they own. Rather, each registrant will have a single registration number that covers any and all drones that the registrant owns.
  • Registration is required prior to operation, not at point-of-sale.
  • Information required for the registration process includes (1) name and (2) street address of the registrant. Mailing address, email address, telephone number, and serial number of the aircraft are optional.
  • The minimum age requirement to register is 13 years of age.
  • There is no registration fee.
  • Registrants will provide their registry information through the Web or apps, and receive registration numbers and certificates of registration back from the system. Those certificates will contain the registrant's FAA-issued registration number.
  • The registration number must be attached to the drone, unless the registrant chooses to provide the FAA with the drone's serial number, and must be readily accessible, readable, and legible upon close visual inspection.

These recommendations have been met with mixed reactions from the drone community. The Academy of Model Aeronautics ("AMA"), one of the largest associations of drone hobbyists in the country and a member of the task force, offered the most severe criticism.

While acknowledging that "registration of UAS makes sense at some level," Dave Mathewson, executive director of the AMA, argued that "these recommendations would make the registration process an unnecessary and unjustified burden" to their members. Further, "the recommendations may ultimately prove untenable by requiring the registration of smaller devices that are essentially toys and do not represent safety concerns."

In particular Mr. Mathewson criticized the task force's consideration of only weight when determining the threshold at which drones should be registered. According to Mr. Mathewson, several factors, including weight, should be considered when determining where the threshold should be for drone registration.

Chinese drone manufacturer DJI and other critics have argued that the proposed registration mandate "contradicts the provisions of several federal statutes," including section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. George Mason University Mercatus fellow Eli Dourado argued that registration of noncommercial drones may be overturned if challenged in court.

On the other hand, many support the recommendations, believing them to be "a good start." Jim Coon, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association senior vice president of government affairs, said that the recommendations would help "ensure safety, protect the National Airspace System, and support participation and innovation in the drone community."

Supporters note that "too many people have demonstrated too much carelessness with their drones for there to be zero accountability." Others also point out that "making every person register their drones will make those who misuse their drones easier to identify and also encourage drown owners to be more responsible with their new gadgets."

While the task force's recommendations appear simple enough, they leave several questions unanswered. Moreover, complicated legal issues about the agency process by which the FAA will issue the registration rule, as well as whether it even possesses the underlying authority to adopt the rule are "primed for takeoff."

As the FAA continues to consider the recommendations and proceeds with its rulemaking process, we will continue to monitor and provide immediate updates of any developments.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Jason J. Zummo
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