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Monday, December 14, 2015

Hobbyists Required to Register UAS Under New IFR

Juliet Van Wagenen

[Avionics Today 12-14-2015] In a move to reign in Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) as numbers flourish, Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Anthony Foxx alongside FAA Deputy Administrator Michael G. Whitaker announced on Monday, Dec. 14, that all small UAS owners must register their aircraft no later than Feb. 19, 2016. The new rule pertains to UAS owners who had previously operated an unmanned aircraft weighing more than 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds including payloads such as on-board cameras, exclusively as a model aircraft.

The FAA has published the final rule on hobbyist FAA registration. Photo: FAA
The FAA has published the final rule on hobbyist UAS registration. Photo: FAA

Whitaker, in a speech regarding the announcement, noted that the FAA will publish the Interim Final Rule (IFR) to the federal register on Tuesday, Dec. 15. He insists that the definitive regulation “tracks closely” with the recommendations of the task force. The task force was established in late October with the aim of developing recommendations for a registration process for UAS in the hopes that registration would help to build a culture of accountability and responsibility with new users in the growing UAS marketplace.

“Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiast are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility. Registration gives us an opportunity to work with these users to operate their unmanned aircraft safely,” Foxx said in a distributed statement.

The FAA has seen a rising number of UAS incidents with manned aircraft in airspace, reporting earlier this year that the number of incidents has increased from 238 in all of 2014 to more than 650 UAS sightings by manned aircraft through the first eight months of 2015. Similarly, the FAA’s estimate for 2015 sales indicates that 1.6 million small unmanned aircraft intended to be used as model aircraft are expected to be sold this year — including approximately 50 percent of that total during the fourth quarter of 2015 — according to the IFR document.

The new regulations are likely to help tamp down on incidents between manned and unmanned aircraft as drone use in the U.S. continues to soar among both hobbyists and commercial businesses. The FAA states in the IFR that the risk of unsafe operation will continue to increase as more small UAS enter the NAS and that registration will provide a means by which to quickly identify the UAS in the event of an incident or accident involving the aircraft. Registration also provides an “immediate and direct” opportunity for the agency to educate UAS owners on safety requirements.

“For decades, the only people who had access to our airspace were highly trained pilots who came from a culture where safety was deeply embedded. But … thousands upon thousands of brand new users are starting to fly. While we are confident that the vast majority of these people care about safety and want to operate safely, the reality is that most have little to no aviation experience,” Whitaker said in his speech. “So our challenge is to educate these new operators that, as soon as they start flying, they are pilots. They have the responsibility to fly safely. And there are rules and regulations that apply to them.”

The unmanned aircraft registry aims to be a key step in the process of aggressively encouraging safety across UAS operators, according to Whitaker. The FAA will open registration to UAS operators through a website that will go live Monday, Dec. 21 through which owners can enter required information surrounding their UAS, such as the operator’s name and information as well as the aircraft’s manufacturer, model name and serial number.

Although registration will cost nothing during the initial 30-day period — open in an effort to encourage as many operators as possible to register quickly — owners will be required to pay a $5 fee after Jan. 30, 2016. Some members of the FAA UAS task force worry that a fee could discourage or burden consumers from completing the registration.

“We urge that any requirements for consumers to pay fees be dropped. Even a small fee — essentially a drone tax — could undermine the FAA’s objective of widespread compliance and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx’s goal of associating a drone with an owner as often as possible,” Douglas Johnson, vice president of technology policy at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) and member of the FAA UAS Registration Task Force, said in a distributed statement.

“This is a crucial time for public policy concerning drones. For the U.S. to stay competitive and drone-related businesses and startups to thrive, we need regulatory — as well as non-regulatory — solutions that support safety and innovation,” Johnson added.

While the fee is likely to stay, more changes to the registration system are coming to consumers. The online registration system does not yet support registration of small UAS used for any purpose other than hobby or recreation, such as using an unmanned aircraft in connection with a business, according to the FAA. The agency is developing enhancements that will allow such online registrations by spring of 2016.

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