The FAA has won a victory on drone registration. President Trump today signed the $700 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which included one small part making drone registration in the U.S. legal.
It was just before the holidays in 2015 that the FAA pushed drone registration through, requiring all drones between .55 pounds and 55 pounds to register via a web-based interface. The registration program was enacted without the usual comment period in reaction to the expected flood of recreational drones as holiday gifts. The idea, backed by major manufacturers like DJI, was to give the FAA an opportunity to present new drone operators with the basic rules of flight and to have some means of tracking rogue aircraft.
The hastily formed program, however, met resistance from operators. The publicly searchable database of operator names caused some operators concern, as did the fact that the program included members of flying organizations like the AMA, causing members to have to register as operators in two different places. Lawsuits predictably ensued; and earlier this year drone operator and attorney John Taylor won his case against the FAA. Drone registration went from required to optional while the FAA figured out what to do.
With two choices available – change the program, or change the law that made the program illegal – regulators opted for the latter. The National Defense Authorization Act, a dense and important piece of law, contains a small part that grants the FAA the right to enact rules about model aircraft, including drones.
It’s a victory not only for the FAA but for the manufacturers and stakeholders who helped put the program together as part of the FAA’s first drone task force. Industry stakeholders argue that drone registration helps to prevent accidental rogue behavior by providing education and promotes a culture of safety among drone operators. If you haven’t registered your drone, and you aren’t a recreational operator flying under a set of community guidelines in accordance with the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, you’ll need to do it now. The registration page has already been changed to warn operators that they “will be subject to civil and criminal penalties if you meet the criteria to register an unmanned aircraft and do not register.”