The LoBiondo UAS Goals are good, but Registration is not the best means

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l44The public has decided that drones are a safety hazard; there have been too many reports of incidents in which UASs have come too close to an airplane, landed in an inappropriate place (White House, Forest Fires, US Open), injured bystanders and a host of other problematic incidents. The Secretary of Transportation held a high profile press conference to announce that drones would have to be registered—when, how, which ones and why were the obvious questions. The negative reaction was strong from drone world, but the political sympathizers were equally or more supportive of the initiative.

What is the appropriate regulatory response to this crisis? Is the goal to prevent problems, by being able to identify the UAV flier BEFORE there is an accident? Or is the goal to capture the bad person after the drone has crashed or has landed at an identifiable spot? Perhaps the purpose of the Foxx press conference was really to do something visible?

The Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee, Rep. LoBiondo (R-NJ), has indicated that he is on the drone band wagon by saying:

“We’re trl33ying to press the Federal Aviation Administration to come up with rules and regulations… How do [people] operate them safely? How do they operate them without interfering with privacy issues… If you’re going to purchase… a drone, a manufacturer should be responsible for the registry process… We have to keep pressing for the FAA to call for registration.” [emphasis added]

The bolded words point out the LoBiondo important policy goals:

  • encouraging drone pilots to fly safely
  • privacy concerns
  • manufacturers responsible for registry

Those are significant regulatory concerns, but there is little correlation between the LoBiondo goals and compelling registration of UASs.

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It is inappropriate to extrapolate, based on the existing fleet’s registration, what putting N numbers on drones will help to attain these three goals for UAS. First and foremost, as evidenced by the above two airplanes, the N number on the above jet is visible from considerably longer distances than the small N number on the quadcopter. The pilot on the plane, the points of take-offs and arrivals, the contact with the ATC (at a minimum radar visibility) and other factors collectively encourage, if not compel, the aircraft operator to comply, to be responsible. Registration is a bureaucratic step which truly does not markedly add to safety of UASs.

If safer flying is the desired outcome, registration of the AIRCRAFT will not, in and of itself, compel the flier of the drone to adopt safer flying procedures. Maybe a few drone operators might be incentivized to fly more safely for fear that the N number would lead the FAA to investigate the owner of an N numbered drone which was identified post-crash. It is easy to predict that the owner of an UAS would assert that someone else was flying when an identified incident occurred. That scenario does not project much of an increase in the adhering to better flight procedures.

The highest correlation between the goal of improved UAS flying standard and some governmental action would be a test like that required of all Private Pilot Licenses applicants. To qualify to fly a plane, one must pass both a written test and a practical demonstration of skills. Such a hurdle is likely to move towards Chairman LoBiondo stated direction, but the resources to design and administer the written examination are beyond the capacity of the FAA. The personnel demands to administer the practical test would be even greater. Perhaps delegation of those functions would work.

There is little likelihood that a mandate requiring owner register would reduce the frequency of drone flights which invade the privacy of others. If the flier would fly close enough to invade the space of a person, it is possible that the person being violated would be able to read the N number of the Peeping Tom UAS. Again, the owner of the identified drone might claim that he lent his bird to someone else. Registration does not enhance privacy.

To truly limit the Peeping Tom phenomena risk, education is the more likely mechanism to encourage drone fliers to behave better. That might be part of a license course or included in the Original Equipment Manufacturer’s instruction packets.

The third LoBiondo notion, greater OEM involvement, might contribute to the safety and privacy goals. As mentioned above, the manufacturer has the most direct and closest relationship with the operator. In particular, the education of the buyer is in the best interests of the company trying to expand the market. The industry would be good at creating instructional programs for all of these goals—CDs, YouTube videos, a cadre of instructors or even flying academies. Voluntary participation would be the best solution; for the regulatory nexus between the FAA and the OEM is attenuated.

Since UAS are not being “certificated” by the FAA, there is less direct, statutory authority over the OEMs. OEMs of the existing fleet of FAA certificated products have regulatory requirements to provide information on both initial and continuing basis. If the Chairman wants to assure the OEM’s participation and not rely on voluntary compliance of the manufacturers, he may have to enact new statutory powers for the FAA.

Objectives must relate to desired outcomes; registration does not, in and off itself, move the regulatory impact towards the three goals. Chairman LoBiondo, focus on practical regulatory mechanisms which will attain your well-articulated goals. You have the right idea and as usual the devil is in the details. Mere registration sounds better than its likely results.

 

ARTICLE: Republican calls for national drone registry

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1 Comment on "The LoBiondo UAS Goals are good, but Registration is not the best means"

  1. Hiram D. Walker | November 19, 2015 at 11:14 pm | Reply

    Congress had it’s say when they passed the FAA Modernization Act of 2012 and stated in section 336 that the FAA is to promulgate no new regulations for model aircraft. Registration will not work as almost everybody I know who flies will not bother to register. 99.99% of the modelers fly in a safe manner and most like myself at dedicated model airplane fields. It’s the .01% who don’t. Don’t punish the innocent for the actions of a few. The FAA’s near miss data, which has been touted as one of the reasons for this regulation, was analyzed by the Academy of Model Aeronautics which found that only 1.3% of the sightings where withing 500′, and most pilots could not be positively identify what they saw as as either a quadcopter, bird or who knows what.

    If this registry starts for radio control hobbyists that have operated safely for over 80 years, what’s next? Guns? Bicycles? Baseball bats? Hammers (they kill more people than hand guns each year)? Once the government finds a registry format they like, they’ll try to force a registry for hot button topics like guns, they’ll look for even more things to register. How about the FAA straighten up the registration on the 1/3 of the registered airplanes first before trying to register hobbyists or their models.

    One interesting fact to note on the committee is since this controls hobby models, why was there no representation on the committee making the recommendations other the Academy of Model Aeronautics (with one seat) to protect the civil rights of the general modeling public? Everybody else represented a commercial interest with a huge desire and major financial gain to be made from regulating the hobby of model aircraft out of the picture. Who is looking out for the citizens of this country as it’s still a Democratic Republic, not a Corporatocracy last time I looked.

    There needs to be more true scientific research done into this issue before brashly taking rights away from hobbyists. Fixed wing and helicopters are not really the issue, it’s the small quadcopters that have become so popular. Most of the pilots either don’t know or don’t care about commonsense safety rules. For the one’s who don’t know, education is the best solution on how and where to operate their model. For the one’s who don’t care, they’re going to keep braking all the rules made regardless.

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