FAA’s Drone Proposal Forged With Stakeholder Help

The Federal Aviation Administration this week released a set of preliminary recommendations on small drones, which will use a simplified registration process compared to larger commercial drones. The result represents a compromise among a variety of industry stakeholders, some of whom didn't get everything they wanted out of the final proposal.

The federal government asked industry players including drone makers, tech companies, and government representatives for input on how it should oversee small drones, and what it received was a suggestion to stay relatively hands-off.

This week the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released recommendations from a task force of industry insiders and other stakeholders on how to create a practical system for registering smaller drones.

In their report to the FAA, the stakeholders—which include the Small UAV Coalition, the Air Line Pilots Association, the Aerospace Industries Association, GoPro, Best Buy, and Amazon, among others—said that size should be a factor in terms of who has to register (the process would apply to drones of up to 55 pounds) and that the process should involve three simple steps: The owner fills out an online registration form, the owner receives an electronic certificate and a registration number that applies to all acquired drones, and the owner marks the registration number on any unmanned aerial vehicle before flying it.

“While the brief summary above leaves out some details, like the option of serial number registration, it demonstrates the simplicity of the solution recommended by the Task Force members,” the report states [PDF]. “This simplicity is what allowed for a consensus recommendation to develop. Any registration steps more burdensome than these three simple steps may jeopardize the likelihood of widespread adoption and would undermine the overall registration philosophy that enabled the Task Force to come to consensus.”

The Consumer Technology Association, another task force member, was happy with the end result. Douglas Johnson, CTA’s vice president of technology policy, credited the “spirit of collaboration” that led to the final recommendations.

“This is a crucial time for public policy concerning drones,” Johnson said in a news release. “For the U.S. to stay competitive, and for drone-related businesses and startups to thrive, we need regulatory as well as nonregulatory solutions that support both safety and innovation.”

The Small UAV Coalition, which had previously raised concerns about the short decision-making window, generally endorsed the fairly easy process. However, it questioned the decision to set the registration threshold for small drones at 250 grams, or roughly half a pound. The coalition had recommended a threshold of 1 kilogram, or about 2.2 pounds.

“The coalition also believes that extending the registration requirement to UAS [unmanned aerial systems) over 250 grams that could reasonably be considered toys could undermine the credibility of the process and detract from the FAA’s mission of using the registration requirement to promote safety, education, and accountability,” the group stated in a news release.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), meanwhile, called the task force’s end result “another important step forward” but said it believes that the registration process should be done at the point of sale, rather than online.

“While not included in the ARC’s recommendations, ALPA feels strongly that mandatory registration of UAS at the point of sale is essential,” the pilots’ union stated. “Registration during the sales process would enable the FAA to more easily enforce the registration rule and would help make clear to purchasers the responsibility that comes with owning an aircraft that holds the potential to dramatically affect the safety of air transportation.”

The onus is now on the FAA and the agency it falls under, the Transportation Department, to implement the regulations, which they are widely expected to do within the next month.

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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