Drone fliers in the USA must soon display their registration markings on the exterior of their craft, rather than as was previously acceptable, in accessible interior compartments. This important but relatively minor regulation change has been announced by the FAA in response to concerns that malicious operators could booby-trap a craft to catch investigators as they opened it in search of a registration. The new ruling is effective from February 25th, though they are inviting public comment on it.
As airspace regulators and fliers across the world traverse the tricky process of establishing a safe and effective framework for multirotors and similar craft we’ve seen a variety of approaches to their regulation, and while sometimes they haven’t made complete sense and have even been struck down in the courts, the FAA’s reaction has been more carefully considered than that in some other jurisdictions. Rule changes such as this one will always have their detractors, but as an extension of a pre-existing set of regulations it is not an unreasonable one.
It seems inevitable that regulation of multirotor flight will be a continuing process, but solace can be taken at the lower end of the range. A common theme across the world seems to be a weight limit of 250 g for otherwise unrestricted and unregistered craft, and the prospects for development in this weight category in response to regulation are exciting. If a smaller craft can do everything our 2 kg machines used to do but without the burden of regulation, we’ll take that.
It’s a trope of horror movies that demonic foes always return. No sooner has the bad guy been dissolved in a withering hail of holy water in the denoeument of the first movie, than some foolish child in a white dress at the start of the next is queuing up to re-animate it with a careless drop of blood or something. If parents in later installments of popular movie franchises would only keep an eye on their darn kids, it would save everybody a whole lot of time!
The relevant passage can be found in section 1092(d) of the National Defense Authorization Act, on page 329 of the mammoth PDF containing the full text, and reads as follows:
(d) RESTORATION OF RULES FOR REGISTRATION AND MARKING OF UNMANNED AIRCRAFT
.—The rules adopted by the Administrator
of the Federal Aviation Administration in the matter of registration
and marking requirements for small unmanned aircraft (FAA-2015-
7396; published on December 16, 2015) that were vacated by the
United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
in Taylor v. Huerta (No. 15-1495; decided on May 19, 2017) shall
be restored to effect on the date of enactment of this Act.
This appears to reverse the earlier decision of the court, but does not specify whether there has been any modification to the requirements to prevent their being struck down once more by the same angle of attack. In particular, it doesn’t change any of the language in the FAA Modernization Act of 2012, which specifically prevents the Agency from regulating hobby model aircraft, and was the basis of Taylor v. Huerta. Maybe they are just hoping that hobby flyers get fatigued?
We took a look at the registration system before it was struck down, and found its rules to be unusually simple to understand when compared to other aviation rulings, even if it seemed to have little basis in empirical evidence. It bears a resemblance to similar measures in other parts of the world, with its 250 g weight limit for unregistered machines. It will be interesting both from a legal standpoint to see whether any fresh challenges to this zombie law emerge in the courts, and from a technical standpoint to see what advances emerge from Shenzhen as the manufacturers pour all their expertise into a 250 g class of aircraft.
Thanks [ArduinoEnigma] for the tip.
The British government has shown a surprisingly light touch towards drone fliers in the face of the strident media demands for them to be banned following a series of reports of near-misses with other aircraft. That is about to change with reports of the announcement of a registration scheme for craft weighing over 250 g (about 9 oz). Details are still a bit sketchy, but it is reported that there will be a written test and an element of geofencing around sensitive locations.
Our friendly professional multirotor flier’s reaction is that the existing laws are clear enough, and that this is likely to be no deterrent to any people who already use their drones illegally. It seems that the UK government is following the lead set by the USA in this matter, with the 250 g limit on that side of the Atlantic having already spawned an industry of smaller craft. Time will tell on whether the measures will be effective, we suspect that their success will depend on their not being overly stringent.
[Editor’s note: Following a lawsuit, the US FAA registration requirement was struck down for hobbyists because model aircraft are explicitly excluded from the FAA’s purview. The Brits are not likely to be so lucky.]
If there is a positive side to this announcement, it might be that the 250 g class of multirotor will inevitably become the focus of a lot of attention as manufacturers and engineers work to pack the most performance into the small platform. This small silver lining to the drone registration cloud might not be much, but we’ll take it.
We’ve covered the UK drone story as reported in the media in detail in the past.
Palace of Westminster image: Diliff [CC BY-SA 2.5].
The US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has struck down a rule requiring recreational drone users and model aircraft pilots to register their drones with the FAA.
This began when [John Taylor], an RC hobbyist and attorney, filed suit against the FAA questioning the legitimacy of the FAA’s drone registration program. This drone registration began early last year, with the FAA requiring nearly all drones and model aircraft to be registered in a new online system. This registration system caused much consternation; the FAA Modernization And Reform Act of 2012 states, ““…Federal Aviation Administration may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft…”, defining model aircraft as any unmanned aircraft flown within visual line of sight for hobby or recreational purposes. Despite this mandate from Congress, the FAA saw fit to require registration for every model aircraft weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds, regardless of the purpose of its flight.
In our coverage of the FAA’s drone registration program, we couldn’t make heads or tails of the reasons behind this regulation. In addition to the questionable legality of this regulation, there are questions over the FAA’s mandate to regulate anything flying under the 400 foot ceiling cited in the FAA’s rules. The question of safety is also open — a 2 kg drone is likely to cause injury to a passenger on a commercial flight only once every 187 million years of operation. In short, the FAA might not have the mandate of managing the air traffic, certification, and safety of the nation’s airspace when it comes to model aircraft.
While the Circuit court struck down the rule for registration concerning model aircraft, this still only applies to small (under 55 pounds) planes and quads flown within line of sight. Commercial drone operators still fall under the purview of the FAA, and for them the drone registration system will stand.