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UAS Task Force Makes Registration Recommendations—Interim Final Rule Expected December 2015

Today, the FAA released the UAS registration recommendations that the UAS Registration Task Force delivered to FAA Administrator Huerta on Saturday. While not final, if and when promulgated as an interim final rule, owners of sUAS weighing between 250 grams and 55 lbs. will have to register the sUAS through a free web-based system before operation of the sUAS. This system would apply to all sUAS operating in the U.S.

The UAS Task Force, consisting of 25 individuals from a broad range of industries and government agencies, including retailers, manufacturers, technology companies, the aviation industry, and the Departments of Defense, Commerce, Homeland Security and State, was tasked with developing recommendations regarding the registration of sUAS with the goals of improving education, safety, and accountability. Based upon its review of the Task Force’s recommendations, the FAA said it intends to issue an interim final rule which would “likely be released next month and be able to go into effect shortly thereafter.” This must be coordinated with OMB’s Office of Management and Budget, however, which can lead to further delays and substantive changes. The FAA will continue to accept and consider additional comments after release of the interim final rule and before issuing the final rule, expected in 2016.

The Task Force’s final recommendations report states that the FAA should develop and manage a free, owner-based sUAS registration system online. The required registration information would include the owner’s name and street address. Owners of sUAS would each be assigned a unique FAA registration number, covering all qualifying sUAS owned by the registrant. The sUAS would have to be marked with either the issued registration number or the manufacturer’s serial number submitted to the FAA.

With regard to a U.S. citizenship requirement currently in place for commercial operators using Section 333 exemptions and registering aircraft under the FAA’s existing system (explained here), the Task Force recommended that there be no U.S. citizenship or residency requirements for registration eligibility. In the event that owners failed to comply with the registration requirements, the Task Force also recommended a “clear and proportionate penalty framework” for violations. So instead of bringing $27,500 per violation penalties for those failing to comply with the new registration requirements, presumably the FAA would utilize administrative “warning letters” and other forms of administrative actions, not enforcement actions, which would be reserved for egregious and repeat cases. While the Task Force was rather unwieldy and given unrealistic deadlines for action, the FAA is under enormous pressure to track better the widespread use of UAS.