Dan Elwell, the Acting Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), delivered the keynote speech opening the Interdrone conference earlier this month. His remarks predictably emphasized a concern for safety. He mentioned a number of regulatory hurdles facing the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drone) industry, namely remote identification and unmanned traffic management (UTM). He also mentioned privacy and public opinion very briefly in his speech. But how close are we to finding workable solutions to these problems? Expected legislation may help to address some of these concerns, but the UAS industry will still need more in order to fully integrate into the National Airspace System (NAS).
U.S. Transportation Secretary Foxx and FAA Administrator Huerta announced the creation of a task force to develop recommendations by November 20, 2015 for a streamlined registration process for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) that will include registration of recreational (non-commercial) UAS, also called “model aircraft.” The FAA also released a clarification and request for information (FAA Clarification and Request) regarding the electronic registration for UAS, publicly docketed here. The FAA requests that public comments are submitted by November 6, 2015, but will consider comments submitted during the development of the registration process.
The task force will be comprised of 25-30 representatives from UAS and manned aviation industries, the federal government, and other stakeholders to explore and develop recommendations to streamline the UAS registration process to ease the burden associated with the existing paper-based aircraft registration process. The task force will advise the Department on “which aircraft should be exempt from registration due to a low safety risk, including toys and other small UAS.” The announcement gave no indication as to the parameters of any exemptions or the requirements for registration.
The task force will also make other recommendations as it deems appropriate in light of the increased reports of potentially unsafe UAS operations, ranging from incidents at major sporting events to flights near manned aircraft, and interference with wildfire operations. The FAA claims it has received double the rate of pilot reports of UAS sightings in 2015 than the rate in 2014. Pilots have reportedly sighted UAS at altitudes up to 10,000 feet, or as close as half-a-mile from the end of a runway. The FAA claims that only a small percentage of incidents have resulted in enforcement actions because identifying an individual or entity responsible for the dangerous operation is very difficult.
After clarifying the FAA’s asserted authority to require model aircraft registration, The FAA Clarification and Request called for the submission information, including: (i) methods available for identifying individual products (i.e., serial number); (ii) time of registration; (iii) the party responsible for registration (i.e., vendor or purchaser); (iv) the parameters for excluding UAS from registration; (v) registration process design to minimize burdens and protect innovation and encourage growth; (vi) platform (i.e., electronic or web-based); (vii) information collected and method of storage; (viii) registration fees; and (ix) additional means to encourage accountability and responsible use of UAS.
According to the DOT, the registration requirement is intended to “build a culture of accountability and responsibility, especially with new users who have no experience in the U.S. aviation system” and “will protect public safety in the air and on the ground.” Various trade groups joined Secretary Foxx during the announcement, including the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, Academy of Model Aircraft, and AirMap/Small UAV Coalition. The DOT press release and link to statements in support of DOT’s approach are available here.