A U.S. plan to require registration of all unmanned aircraft systems, including small drones, offers the federal government better options for educating drone operators about their responsibilities in the air and enforcing their compliance with flight and airspace rules.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Oct. 19 said he had set up an industry/government task force to advise him by Nov. 20 on how to set up the registry, including recommendations on what aircraft might be excluded from registration requirements based on their low safety risk.
“Registering unmanned aircraft will help build a culture of accountability and responsibility, especially with new users who have no experience operating in the U.S. aviation system,” Foxx said.
“It will help protect public safety in the air and on the ground.” The task force will consist of 25 to 30 representatives from the unmanned and manned aviation industries, the federal government, and other stakeholders.
The FAA has struggled to manage the safety implications of drones’ proliferation in U.S. airspace, primarily by limiting their use to areas and purposes prescribed in “Section 333” exemptions allowing flights by uncertificated aircraft. But those exemptions apply to commercial operations. Hobby drone operators face few restrictions beyond a general expectation that they will comply with Academy of Model Aeronautics guidelines for flight radio-controlled aircraft and a general prohibition of creating a hazard in civil airspace.
But making such operators aware of the academy guidelines has proved problematic. Some retailers claim the guidelines are included in the packaging of hobby drones, while purchasers say they’ve bought drones that included no guidelines. Also, tracking down airspace transgressors is difficult, since the drones are small, hard to see and not marked in a way that facilitates tracking their ownership. A hobby drone registry would help fix those problems.
Though registration details are yet to be finalized, they could require each purchaser to state—under penalty of law—that he or she is aware of the obligation to comply with rules for the safe operation of drones in civil airspace, including the admonition against interfering with the safe conduct of other aircraft. Registration also would allow the feds to link a specific drone to an individual, providing a clearer path for investigation and prosecution of safety transgressions.