24 November 2015

US Drone Registration

The US Federal Aviation Administration’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Registration Task Force Aviation Rulemaking Committee has released its recommendations [PDF].

The report featuring those recommendations states
 The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chartered the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Registration Task Force (RTF) Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) (Task Force) to provide recommendations to the FAA “on registration requirements and process for small UAS, including those used for commercial purposes, and all model aircraft.”
Federal law (49 U.S.C. § 44101(a)) requires that a person may only operate an aircraft when it is registered with the FAA. An “aircraft” is defined as “any contrivance invented, used, or designed to navigate, or fly in, the air” (49 U.S.C. § 40102(a) (6)). In 2012, Congress confirmed that UAS, including those used for recreation or hobby purposes, are aircraft consistent with the statutory definition set forth in 49 U.S.C. § 40102(a)(6). See Pub. L. 112-95, §§ 331(8), 336. The FAA currently requires civil UAS operators who have been granted operational authority by exemption to register their aircraft. The FAA would also require registration for civil UAS that would be operating under the proposed rule titled Operation and Certification of small UAS (sUAS). See 80 FR 9544 (Feb. 23, 2015).
Although the FAA does not currently enforce the requirement for sUAS used for hobby or recreational purposes to be registered, the rapid proliferation of these aircraft in the national airspace has caused the FAA to reevaluate this policy in the interests of public safety and the safety of the National Airspace System (NAS). On October 22, 2015, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the FAA published the Clarification of the Applicability of Aircraft Registration Requirements for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and Request for Information Regarding Electronic Registration for UAS (Clarification and RFI). See 80 FR 63912. The Clarification and RFI did three main things: (1) clarified that the statutory requirements regarding aircraft registration of UAS apply to aircraft used for recreational or hobby purposes; (2) announced the formation of this Task Force; and (3) facilitated the Task Force’s work, requesting information and data from the public in 10 specific areas.
The stated objective of the Task Force was to develop recommendations for the creation of a registration process, which ultimately would contribute to an enforceable rule imposed by the FAA. The FAA stated that the intent of establishing this registration framework was to promote a culture of accountability while achieving a maximum level of compliance.
The FAA scoped the Task Force’s objectives at inception, and advised them that deliberations and recommendations were not dependent on the issuance or enactment of new regulation(s) or legislation, thus bound by existing statutes and rules. Additionally, the FAA advised the Task Force that recommendations should only consider sUAS operations covered under existing laws or statutes for which the FAA has direct oversight or responsibility (e.g., indoor sUAS operations were outside of the scope of discussion).
Recommendations from the Task Force are within the bounds of its charter, and may be used at the FAA’s discretion. The FAA may incorporate all, some, or none of the recommendations provided in any rulemaking activity, as well as take any future steps deemed necessary by the Agency to ensure compliance with the registration requirement. The work of the Task Force is an important step toward promoting a safety culture, but it is by no means the only action that can be taken. Any implemented registration system must align with the Agency’s priorities of safety, education, and accountability.
 The Task Force had  three formal objectives:
1. Develop and recommend minimum requirements for UAS that would need to be registered. ● Factors to consider include, but are not limited to: technical capabilities and operational capabilities such as size, weight, speed, payload, equipage, and other factors such as age of operator.
2. Develop and recommend registration processes. ● Factors to consider include, but are not limited to: electronic means for registration, data retention and storage, fee collection, and information required to be submitted for registration.  
3. Develop and recommend methods for proving registration and marking. ● Factors to consider include, but are not limited to: how certificates will be issued and how a UAS will be able to be identified with the registered owner.
It was asked to consider the following questions:
  1. What methods are available for identifying individual products? Does every UAS sold have an individual serial number? Is there another method for identifying individual products sold without serial numbers or those built from kits?
2. At what point should registration occur (e.g., point-of-sale (POS) or prior to operation)? How should transfers of ownership be addressed in registration?
3. If registration occurs at POS, who should be responsible for submission of the data? What burdens would be placed on vendor of UAS if DOT required registration to occur at POS? What are the advantages of a point-of-sale approach relative to a prior-to-operation approach?
4. Consistent with past practice of discretion, should certain UAS be excluded from registration based on performance capabilities or other characteristics that could be associated with safety risk, such as weight, speed, altitude operating limitations, duration of flight?
5. How should a registration process be designed to minimize burdens and best protect innovation and encourage growth in the UAS industry?
6. Should the registration be electronic or web-based? Are there existing tools that could support an electronic registration process?
7. What type of information should be collected during the registration process to positively identify the aircraft owner and aircraft? 8. How should the registration data be stored? Who should have access to the registration data? How should the data be used?
9. Will the data be used primarily to hold registrants accountable for accidents or intentional misuse? If so, how will this affect registration by consumers? How will registration be enforced?
10. To encourage awareness, should the registration process include an acknowledgment of UAS safe operating rules?
11. Should a registration fee be collected and if so, how will the registration fee be collected if registration occurs POS? Are there payment services that can be leveraged to assist (e.g., PayPal)?
12. How will a registration program affect sales of drones, future innovation, and the positive economic impacts of the use of drones?
13. The effort to register all aircraft will have costs to government, consumers, industry, and registrants. What are these costs, and are these costs clearly outweighed by the benefits to aviation safety?
14. Are there additional means to encourage accountability and safe responsible use of UAS?
In response
The Task Force agreed that it was outside the scope of the Task Force’s objectives to debate or discuss the DOT Secretary’s decision to require registration of sUAS or the legal authority for the implementation of such a mandate. Once that understanding was reached, the Task Force undertook the task to develop and recommend a registration process that ensures accountability for users of the NAS and encourages a maximum level of compliance with the registration requirement, while not unduly burdening the nascent UAS industry and its enthusiastic owners and users of all ages. The Task Force also sought to define a category of sUAS that should be excluded from the registration requirement because they do not present a significant level of risk to the non-flying public and to users of the NAS.
It provided the following  recommendations for the registration process
1) Fill out an electronic registration form through the web or through an application (app).
2) Immediately receive an electronic certificate of registration and a personal universal registration number for use on all sUAS owned by that person.
3) Mark the registration number (or registered serial number) on all applicable sUAS prior to their operation in the NAS.
The report comments
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. 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. Although there were often very divergent views, and some decisions were not unanimous, the Task Force reached general agreement on their recommendations to the FAA with the frequent use of votes. Additionally, the general consensus view of the Task Force is that the recommendations on the three objectives are to be presented together as a unified recommendation, with each of the individual recommendations dependent upon elements in the others. Compromises in positions were made whenever possible to obtain a general consensus, and changes to any of the components could further dilute support among the Task Force members and their constituencies for the final recommendations. It should be noted that the Task Force acknowledged that the timeframe provided for deliberations did not allow for in-depth analysis of all the factors involved in instituting a federal requirement for registering sUAS, nor did it allow for an assessment of the impact of such a mandate on the recreational/hobby community.
Based primarily upon an assessment of available safety studies and risk probability calculations, and notwithstanding determinations in other countries with differing weight thresholds, the Task Force recommended an exclusion from the registration requirement for any small unmanned aircraft weighing a total of 250 grams (g) or less. The 250 grams or less exclusion was based on a maximum weight that was defined as the maximum weight possible including the aircraft, payload, and any other associated weight. In manned aircraft terms, it is the “maximum takeoff weight.”
The Task Force also recommends a free, owner-based registration system with a single registration number for each registrant. (They also suggested that if the FAA is required by statute to charge, that the fee should be $0.001). sUAS owners would be required to register with the FAA, prior to operation in the NAS, by entering their name and street address into a web-based or app based registration system. The system would be powered by an Application Program Interface (API) that would allow multiple app clients to feed registration information into the database, ensuring widespread compliance. Provision of email address, telephone number, and serial number of the aircraft into the system would be optional. Information on U.S. citizenship or residence status would not be required, but there would be a minimum age requirement of 13 years to register. At the time of registration, each registrant would receive a certificate of registration that contains a unique universal registration number (and the aircraft serial number if provided) that can be used on all sUAS owned by the individual. This registration number would be required to be directly marked on or affixed to each sUAS the registrant owns, prior to outdoor operation. This marking would need to be maintained in a readable and legible condition, and be readily accessible upon visual inspection. If a registrant chose to provide the FAA with the aircraft’s serial number, the registrant would not be required to further mark the sUAS with the FAA-issued registration number , as long as the serial number meets the requirement of being readable, legible, and readily accessible (without the use of tools) upon visual inspection. The Task Force also recommends that the registration process contain some sort of education component which could be similar to the existing content in the Know Before You Fly campaign.