Change is coming to the world of unmanned aeronautics. On Oct. 19, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx announced the formation of a taskforce to come up with a plan to create a national registry for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, also known as drones. Today, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced the members of that taskforce. It’s made up of over two dozen people from all aspects of the drone world; manufacturers, retailers, airline pilots, law enforcement, lobbyists, and even a member of the Academy of Model Aeronautics.
The taskforce has until Nov. 20 to determine the parameters for drone registration. According to the FAA and DOT, drone registration is needed due to the ever-increasing number of drone sightings by airline pilots, the grounding of helicopters fighting wildfires in California, and drone crashes at sporting events. They feel that making private individuals register their drones, they will be able to trace that drone back to its owner. Of course, this will only work if the drone crashes and if the owner put the registration information on the drone.
This holiday season retailers are expecting to sell an estimated 1 million new drones. That means 1 million new drone pilots. Prior to the advent of quadcopters with flight controllers that stabilized them in flight, remote controlled aircraft was an expensive hobby that required a lot of skill to enter. Maintaining the throttle, collective, tail rotor, and cyclic of an RC helicopter took years of practice and thousands of dollars in spare parts from crashing on a regular basis. As far as RC airplanes go, you need a field to use as a runway to takeoff and land. With quadcopters, they basically fly themselves. Some even allow you to enter GPS coordinates, create a flight plan, and the drone will take off, fly the route, then land itself, all without any input from the operator.
The simplicity of drones and the low cost of entry means that RC aircraft have gone from an expensive hobby to a cheap toy that anyone can buy and fly. Yes, there’s a few bad apples out there that make the rest of the drone flying community look bad, but that’s the case in anything. The official national body for model aviation in the US, the AMA, is urging its members to head over to the Federal Register notice on UAS registration and tell the FAA to exempt “sUAS that lack the capability to fly beyond line of site by using either first-person view, or those sUAS that lack onboard navigational systems that allow the aircraft to fly missions beyond visual line of site”, which would remove traditional RC planes an helicopters form the requirements. They cite their “impeccable 80-year track record of operating safely” as the reason they should be exempt. This is akin to the government requiring all cars capable of 200+ mph to be registered and the Ferrari Club of America saying that Ferraris and Maseratis should be exempt because Ferrari drivers are safer than those dirty Lamborghini plebs.
If the federal government wants us to register our toys because they have the ability to do stupid stuff, what’s to stop them from wanting to know the name of every owner of a fast car? The best part of this whole situation is that the FAA doesn’t require that the pilots of ultralights, which are much larger and more dangerous than drones, to register their aircraft or even be licensed to fly them. It’s pretty obvious that the government is scared of a new technology that they don’t know how to control, and due to a few high profile incidents involving drones, they are knee-jerking their way into something that’s going to be a nightmare to implement and manage and gives no incentive to the drone owners to participate in.
Regardless of how you feel about drone registration, head over to regulations.gov and read up on what they are saying and the 10 questions they are asking. You can leave a public comment with your feelings on the matter, and all comments are read.