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Posted by on Oct 21, 2015

UAS community reacts to DOT press conference regarding National Drone Registry

UAS community reacts to DOT press conference regarding National Drone Registry

There’s a lot of buzz going on about Monday’s press conference with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and F.A.A. Administrator Michael Huerta and their proposed plan to require all drone owners/operators to register their UAS (all sizes and classes) with a National Registry. And if you didn’t happen to catch the event, you can watch the recorded press conference below. The backlash from various UAS groups, legal advisors, manufacturers and aviation experts and the UAS community in general are nearly flabbergasted at the outcome of this event.

MicroDrone-N

According to an article in the New York Times, a spokesman for the FAA claimed that “Anyone who fails to register a drone could face civil fines up to $27,500 and, if warranted, criminal penalties up to $250,000 or up to three years in jail, or both”.

The concept is ludicrous that every RC model plane, toy multirotors all the way up to larger drones will have to be registered to the owner/operator – despite the fact that a large percentage of them will become lost or broken in the first few weeks of operation before the registration will most likely be completed through the proposed bureaucratic system.

But first – a “task force” is to be charged with working out the details and will be announced by November 20, 2015. Who knows how long it will take after that before they actually have a functional registry program/process. As it stands currently, all commercial UAS pilots must file for a Section 333 Exemption and adhere to preposterous limited conditions as to their allowed flights and crew. The application process isn’t streamlined for UAS, so even registering your small quadcopter (like a DJI Phantom 3) through a process originally designed for manned aircraft, is a nightmare of unnecessary forms, bogged down with decades of luddite mentality in an obviously outdated system.

Let’s not forget that the FAA has already missed their congressionally mandated deadline to produce their UAS regulations program – something that now seems even further into the distant future,

US Department of Transportation Press Conference video stream

You can watch the entire press conference that was originally streamed live on YouTube on Oct 18, 2015. The Q&A in the second half of the press conference had both Foxx and Huerta doing quick double duty at the podium microphone, dodging the tough questions or just making stuff up as they went along. It almost feels like an SNL skit at times.

(Skip to 9:48 for the beginning of this press conference)

Q&A section – the last question reveals how totally unprepared and off track they are with this entire program. Skip ahead to 32:44 where the reporter asks about how they intend to recover and identify the errant UAS while it’s in the air – by transponder or something? The answer given by Foxx was “This is about having a national registry of folks who are owners of drones and users of drones…  our challenge so far has not been not identifying the drone itself, it’s been connecting it back to the person who was using it and this will help us deal with that effectively. This is not about transponders or geofencing – this is about the connection”.

The reporter again states “I don’t think you understand… if I was to report a drone flying near JFK and you’re able to trace it back to the user how”? Foxx’ response was “We identify the drone, we collect the information on the drone, and the drone is cross-checked against the National Registry”.

The reporter again asks how they’re going to get that information – whether obtaining the drone or getting it remotely, the final comment given by Foxx was only “These are the types of issues that this task force is going to deal with, but my bottom line point is, you do have to have some access to the drone to connect it back to the user – I don’t think it’s going to be as big of a problem that you think it is, because in most instances, we have seen the drone, we just haven’t seen the person operating it”.

Really? REALLY? You mean the only way you hope to ID the drone operator is if the drone itself crashes on the White House lawn or lands in a prison yard?

This plan has more holes in it than a colander. As pointed out by John Goglia, contributor for Forbes and former NTSB board member, in his article yesterday.

Regardless of the question of legality, neither Foxx nor the FAA’s Huerta were able to answer how drone registration could help identify drones reported to be flying too close to manned aircraft.  Several times, the Secretary claimed that the problem has been identifying the individual operators, not the drones.  But the FAA data of these reports clearly shows that the drones themselves were never obtained so it remains a mystery how registration alone will help identify wrongdoers.

As tweeted by Peter Sachs, Esq. of the Drone Law Journal, summed-up how most knowledgeable industry folks felt after watching the live streaming event:

All kidding aside, this is beyond imaginable how such an outdated administration can pull something like this off in a timely manner. And how do they plan to enforce this program, with DIY maker/builders and the hundreds of thousands of sUAS already in use – let alone the most popular/request toy this holiday season?

Aviation safety expert and former FAA Chief Counsel Sandy Murdoch writes in his article in the JDA Journal:

Drone Registration Is Not The Answer To Irresponsible UAS Flying

“The real problem is that, once a UAS airborne, it will be difficult, if not impossible to read the identifying number. An observer on the ground will neither be able to read the Registration Number nor trail it. Unlike aircraft, drones can land anywhere and thus can elude the enforcement dragnet. Putting a registration number on a UAS is a Band Aid ®; the likelihood of detection and accountability only marginally, a very small %, improves.”

“While even a small N number on a drone can identify it, that is ONLY useful if it has crashed or is in the hands of the authorities. The registration has little value when the UAS escapes or there is an opportunity to interdict an impending problem”.

You see? Even with compliance, the practical application is set for disaster from the offset – and why Foxx made his statement that they would have to actually have physical contact with the offending drone to identify it.

The AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics) issued a letter to its members today, citing that they’ve been asked to join the task force and advise them how to proceed.

AMA believes that traditional model aircraft, as well as the “toy-type” drones with minimal capability would fall below the threshold and not be subject to the registration process.

In a prepared statement released yesterday, AMA was clear in its position that any required registration process “should not become a prohibitive burden for recreational users who fly for fun and educational purposes and who have operated harmoniously within our communities for decades.”

AMA does not and will not support any proposal that calls for the registration of any sUAS that fall below an established threshold and is resolute in its position that all forms of traditional model aircraft must remain exempt from the registration process.

If you belong to any of a number of UAV community blogs or social media groups, you’ll already have a sense that this recent announcement has brought with it nothing but questions and controversy – on top of an already anxious industry that just wants to fly their drones safely and responsibly (save for a handful of knuckleheads who draw major media attention). But the toothpaste is already out of the tube. Local LEO are most likely not looking for more responsibilities while on duty than to see if little Bobby flying his toy drone in the front yard is actually registered. And the examples given to Secretary Foxx that met the criteria for everything they purport this new registry is supposed to address, and they still have no clue as to “how”?

Get the popcorn… this is about to get interesting.

Also Read: KEEP CALM: The FAA and sUAVs/Drone Rules, UPDATED