In the world of unmanned aircraft systems, 2016 will be best remembered for the FAA’s release of its final Part 107 regulations for commercial small UAS operations. (See here for more on Part 107.) However, the beginning of December marks that special time of year—a time for the FAA to turn its focus back to operators of recreational UAS.
In today’s announcement regarding the number of registrations of model sUAS in the FAA’s sUAS database, the FAA also hinted at plans to extend the database to commercial operators in March.
In the press release, the FAA states that it “is working to make the online registration system available for non-model aircraft users – such as commercial operators – by March 21.” This extension of the registration requirements to commercial operators is a new step for the agency, which thus far has only opened the database to exclusively recreational or hobby sUAS operators.
The interim final rule requires new model sUAS to be registered before they fly outside, whereas users who operated their model sUAS before December 21, 2015 are not required to register until February 19, 2016. The interim final rule excluded commercial operators from the registration system.
The press release also announced that the DOT and FAA were “pleased” and “encouraged” that nearly 300,000 owners have registered their model sUAS in the first 30 days after the online registration system went live. However, this number appears to be a fraction of the over 700,000 sUAS that FAA predicted would be sold during the 2015 holiday season, not to mention the millions sold before then. Owners who registered in the first month received a refund for the $5 application fee—but that period ends today.
As the FAA continues to make progress in developing a regulatory framework for governing UAS, we are seeing a boom in legislation around the country as state and federal legislators seek to promote the commercial use of UAS.
In Washington, Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, and Senator John Hoeven, a Republican from North Dakota, recently teamed up to introduce the Commercial UAS Modernization Act of 2015. Their bill is intended to reduce regulatory burdens on commercial UAS operators, while expanding the use of the FAA’s existing UAS test sites.
All unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are “aircraft” as defined under federal aviation law, and the FAA requires that all aircraft be registered to conduct operations in the U.S. The FAA’s proposed small UAS (sUAS) rules will codify the UAS registration requirement. Following the same registration requirements as manned aircraft, the UAS must be U.S.-owned and cannot be foreign registered. The U.S.-registration requirement has implications for multi-national businesses and entities that intend to operate UAS around the globe, including potential operational limitations or additional approval requirements.