A task force of government and industry stakeholders will be assembled to work out the details of a new requirement to register all unmanned aircraft systems (commonly known as drones) at the time of sale, officials announced Oct. 19.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, flanked by representatives of various groups concerned with commercial and recreational use of unmanned aircraft, announced the urgent effort to ensure that every drone is linked to a particular user. Commercial operators are already required to register unmanned aircraft, and federal officials said they can expand that requirement to all drones based on their existing authority and regulations.
The task force, Foxx said, “will work on a tight timeline to get this done” by Nov. 20, with the registration requirement to be in place by mid-December. By some estimates, one million drones or more may be sold this holiday season. Foxx expects the registration requirement will be retroactive to drones sold prior to December, though that is among the details to be decided.
“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Foxx added, noting that the FAA continues to work on a final rule that will govern operation of commercial drones that weigh less than 55 pounds. The new registration requirement will meanwhile augment various operator education efforts, including some created voluntarily by manufacturers. The requirement to register all drones will allow the FAA and law enforcement to trace drones that violate laws or regulations back to their owner, and Foxx noted that the inability to do so has been a significant obstacle to enforcement of current regulations and rules.
“This is not the whole solution, just part of it,” Foxx said of the registration requirement.
Foxx said the task force, to consist of about two dozen government agencies and industry organizations, will determine which drones will be subject to the requirement, as well as the particulars of setting up a system to gather information from buyers. The work of that task force will not interfere with or delay the FAA effort to finalize the proposed rule that will update FAA regulations governing small UAS operations. (AOPA was among more than 4,500 individuals and groups that submitted comments on that proposed rule.) Foxx said the rule remains on track to be finalized in June, echoing the prediction offered to a House panel Oct. 8.
Foxx was joined by FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, and others, including representatives of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) and Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), who testified before the House panel Oct. 8 and plan to provide further testimony at an upcoming Senate hearing on the same topic.
AUVSI CEO Brian Wynne said the registration requirement “should lead to increased accountability.” Commercial operators are already required to register their drones, and “extending this requirement to other UAS users will promote responsibility and safety.”
AMA Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs Rich Hanson noted that tiny drones are basically toys, and suggested that they should be exempt from the registration requirement. Registration of systems that “meet an appropriate threshold of weight, capability … makes sense,” Hanson said.
AOPA will welcome an invitation to join the registration task force and work with government and industry to craft specifics of the registration requirement for small UAS, having long advocated for safe, responsible integration of unmanned aircraft. The association has joined various government and industry efforts to educate operators, and to develop regulations and policies that facilitate the safe use of airspace. The association will continue to ensure that the views and concerns of general aviation pilots are well-known to all involved.