Drone Registration Complications

Just exactly how did we get into this mess?

Early on the AMA pushed the FAA into a kind of “hands-off” policy with regard to hobby aircraft. After all, the AMA is older than the FAA. Seniority, I guess? However, while all the pressure was focused on “commercial” drones, we saw lots of encounters between drones and the really big airplanes.  Commercial operators literally “have no business” up in the clouds or around airports, so who is flying up there?  Predictably, the FAA’s response was something like kicking the dog every time the cat scratches the furniture, putting more limitations on commercial operations,  being careful not to upset the AMA. Not that it’s AMA members who are causing all the trouble either. The problem comes from the “rules don’t apply to me” crowd. As if they care about more rules or registration.

The other mistake was on the part of Congress in the 2012 Modernization Act. They saw the problem of certifying UAV aircraft and relaxed the requirements of one section of 49 USC §44711, while leaving the other half that has to do with licensed pilots. Whether from oversight or under pressure from airline pilots, the result was to put many potential drone operators in a bind. In order to fly a $1500 drone they would need to qualify to fly a full size airplane, only to find that requirement lifted a short time later (6/16). Not exactly a good investment, especially when competing with the “outlaws” who simply ignore the rules. Let’s face it, you don’t need to know how to fly an airplane, you just need to know how an airplane flies. That could be handled by requiring a (written) ground school exam (SPA).  (#PilotRule – Search it on Twitter)

But, unfortunately, they didn’t do that, and as a result… And, predictably, when the bar is raised too high, people tend to just walk under it.  Do you see many pilots taking time off from their day jobs to fly quadcopters for real estate agents? I don’t think so.  Do you see drone operators who don’t know the first thing about airspace, ground effect, vortex ring effect, TFRs and sectional maps? Uh, huh.

So here we are today, with the new hobby registration rule that creates yet another problem that was not in the master plan.  Consider the situation of someone who decides they would like to operate commercially or plans to fly under a public COA. They can’t register as a hobby operator, but they can’t even take the bird out of the box after February 19th, 2016, until they have a registered “N” number in their hands. The old way takes about 3 weeks. The new way won’t be available until the end of March.

I think that’s called “Catch 22”.

Dave Mathewson, executive director of the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), already mentioned in response to the task force recommendations that he is mostly concerned with “the best ways to ensure the safety of our airspace.” While not in direct response to Monday’s news, he clearly is not convinced that forcing government registration upon individuals will make them any safer or better aviators. Without any sort of training associated with government registration, it’s hard to argue that point. (S0urce: http://www.expouav.com/commercial-uav-reactions-and-repercussions-concerning-the-faa-drone-registration-announcement/)

It would have been nice of the FAA had made it a bit more clear that this new registration only applies to hobby flyers and not commercial or public operators.

Here are the details:

  • Although each UAS must be assigned a unique registration number, commercial operators will be given a single online profile that allows them to manage the registration application process for each UAS.
  • There is no requirement to re-register UAS that have already been registered under the existing system. Operators may continue using the existing registration system or, alternatively, switch over to the new registration system when the registration is renewed.

While some recreational drone flyers are unhappy with new registration requirements, the website they soon will be using could help commercial drone operators now saddled with a carbon-copy process. According to the more than 200 pages of rules released by the FAA that new website should be open to commercial operators by the end of March, enabling them to drop an antiquated system that relies on snail-mailed forms. (Source: http://news.expouav.com/uav-slash-uas-news/794-drone-registration-system-a-boon-to-commercial-operators-inside-unmanned-systems)

And what is the registration going to solve? The cowboy operators will continue to do what they want, maybe with a hobby registration, maybe not. The guy who want’s to fly contraband into a prison certainly isn’t going to put his ID on his drone. People who bought any of the hundreds of drones stolen from hobby stores on eBay certainly are not going to register those serial numbers. So the FAA will have a million names and addresses and they can mail out safety booklets that will likely suffer the same fate as instruction books.

And then what?

Meanwhile the picture is further complicated by local and state politicians getting into the act with their own misguided regulations that bear little or no relation to reality or usefulness, and often stand in conflict with Federal law  ….as if that is anything new.

And where does that put us?