Rush to Drone Registrationa Reality Check

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Registration of UASs is almost as controversial as the material which is posted about drone warfare. Whether the Administration’s proposal is workable is at best debatable. While the goals may be laudable, the mechanism of registering may not be achieved by this mechanism.

Aviation safety has made great advances by adopting a preventative, proactive regime based on the availability of data on a real time, robust basis. With the introduction of a new, highly promising technology, the FAA would be well advised to design the UAS rules which support this discipline; to back off now would likely diminish the tools available to achieve the same level of safety.

The Administrator gave the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Registration Task Force some specific guidance:

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How do we make registration as easy as possible for consumers while providing accountability?

  • What products should we exclude from registration based on weight, speed, altitude and flying time?
  • What information should we collect during the registration process, and what should we do with the data?
  • Should every unmanned aircraft sold have its own serial number, or how to tie particular aircraft to a particular user?
  • Should the process include a formal education component before an aircraft can be registered?
  • Should registration be retroactive and apply to unmanned aircraft that are now in the system?
  • Should there be an age requirement for registration?

The below links include some thoughts in response to the Task Force’s challenges. They represent the perspectives of entrepreneurs, model aircraft enthusiasts, manufacturers of UASs, aviation associations and the government. Some of the ideas mentioned in the Washington Post article and other sources bear examination:

→ A non-registration or “toy” limit of weight limit of 9 ounces or half a pound—the 55# upward limit found in the Part 107 NPRM was based on risk analysis. From the outside, one must assume that this number was supported by the same engineering study of the lesser level of damage which these lighter drones could inflict. Such a justifiable standard will be great evidence to refute any arguments by the manufacturers of 10 ounce drones that the limit was drawn for competitive reasons. 

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→ Registration would be done online. This option would disassociate registration from the time of purchase resulting in the diminution of the value of registration in several ways:

  • Foremost requiring registration before the UAS is delivered to the buyer adds to the possibility that the purchaser will not enter the information later. If registration is not a precondition to the transfer to the owner, registration essentially becomes optional.
  • Second, payment is part of the purchase. Unless the buyer offers cash, the seller is likely to be aware of the name of the buyer. If registration is driven by the credit card or check, the owner’s name will be associated with the name on the card or check (even if the acquisition is a gift, the putative buyer’s name on the transaction will be associated with the “owner” registered). The point of transaction is an ideal moment for verification.
  • The article mentions that the “process would take place through apps or Web sites, including those of manufacturers, so retailers would not be burdened with having to complete a registration process at the point of sale.” The sellers of liquor and guns, even buyers at pawn shops, are burdened with getting the necessary information; that extra effort has not deterred the sale of guns and alcohol.
  • Web sites are susceptible to entries by false email addresses and will increase the possibility that a person intent on malicious use of the drone can mask his/her true identity.
  • Clearly this recommendation was driven by the need to have a system in place for the Holiday purchasing season. By centralizing the point of submission, there is no time consumed by having to distribute the information. Is that a valid policy consideration when safety and security are the essential goal of this initiative?

→ The required registration would be the “owner’s name and address.” The person’s email address would be optional to get update information. The notion that registration will have ANY deterrent basis is silly under these terms. As noted above, registration is at best an option.

  • The 2nd Amendment Advocates would say that law abiding people register their guns and the criminals use unregistered weapons. Would not that be true here? What compels the person making an online submission to provide their real identity, particularly when the drone is being acquired to do harm?
  • The Task Force rejected compelling a form with date of birth or Social Security number. An ordinary application for a credit card, college admission, a loan or voter card requires such “intrusive” details. Somehow these bits of identification will stop the public from buying a drone.
  • If some event occurs and the drone is captured by the authorities but the owner is not found at the scene, how likely will the owner claim that the UAS was operated by someone else?

→ A §333 exemption required a DHC clearance, but the option that someone may enter a phony name and address is adequate here. Really?

→ “Drones would be required to display a registration number that’s easily accessible to a person handling the drone. These recommendations are being kept broad, and not making specific suggestions on a font size or style.” This means that the registration number will be only available—

  • IF the owner registered (optional) the drone,
  • IF the information on the registration is true (unverifiable),
  • IF the owner put the number (however hidden or small) on the UAS AND
  • IF the authorities were able to capture the drone in question
    • An owner of a drone which is a target of enforcement can assure no enforcement by becoming scarce—EASILY DONE.
  • That set of assumptions translates to very few instances in which the FAA may be able to actually learn from UAS incidents or accidents. When something goes wrong, the responsible owner will be part of the process; all who fear the FAA or who intend to do wrong will remove themselves easily from the process.

Registration works as a deterrent for all only when verifiable registrant is associated with a number which can be detected by enforcement authorities without the cooperation of the UAS flier. If deterrence is a real goal, then the above premise means that a small Registration number does not work. Technology may be able to create a real registration deterrent.

  • A Facebook member postulated the following:
    • “How would people react to a requirement that all UAS have a built in short range beacon (edited to clarify it is not a transponder as defined in the industry) using tech like Bluetooth or some other short range wireless tech. <100M range. It could be integrated with systems very easily and could be very cheap on the order of $1 for chips. The beacon would broadcast a unique identifier and GPS data. It would be short range so you couldn’t be tracked everywhere—but if an owner is harassing someone or flying somewhere they shouldn’t be, the person being harassed could pick up the ID using a phone.
    • The phone would also store GPS track data while the UAS is in range. Law enforcement would have the ability to cross reference the ID with the database to get owner information. Law enforcement could then compare the GPS log data (time, altitude etc) from the UAS with the phone data. In essence, both sets of data could be used to clear or substantiate a claim.
    • This sort of system would be a heck of a lot easier and cheaper to implement than say integration with ADS-B. This would also help mollify some of the privacy advocates and could help identify the maroons who fly around airports (without permission). And this could be used as something to counter the geo-fencing movement. This sort of system would actually make a registry system useful but at the same time preserve UAS owner rights of not being tracked everywhere…”
  • Sounds like an option, if realistic, for which delay would be worthwhile.

The article reports that the Task Force is opposed to any fee for registration. Drone nation knows that the FAA does not have the resources to enforce Part 107 or even the terms of §333 exemptions. One of the greatest risks to the growth of the UAS industry is lawlessness and the likelihood of a negative, highly visible accident. The FAA does not have and Congress is not likely to provide the necessary to create an adequate presence to slow or stop such incidents. A modest registration fee could provide the resources needed to assure the long term growth of this most promising industry.

The UAS entry is the greatest stimulus to the aviation industry. The potential growth is literally only bounded by the creativity of the entrepreneurs attracted to this FedEx² innovation. The policy being formulated now is most difficult to incorporate all of those dynamics that will be added in the near, medium and long terms. That said all of the excitement being generated by UASs should not encourage short cuts. Formulating a long term registration and being driven by a November 20 deadline will result in a myopic “solution” requiring correction soon thereafter. Taking the time to do it right is a far better mantra for the UAS Registration Task Force.

The pangram of the “quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” is antithetical (“unalphabetical”)  for this project.

 

Article: The FAA is about to require recreational drone registration. Here are the recommended rules.

Report: FAA’s Drone Task Force to Recommend 9 Ounce Registration Requirement

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