Updated 6/04/2017: Drone pilots no longer have to register with the FAA from a recent court ruling.
Manufacturer Point of View: Bob Young, CEO of drone manufacturer PrecisionHawk, recently stated that drone “registration will happen for this Christmas.” The UAS Task Force (aka FAA’s “Unmanned Aerial Systems Task Force”) with membership including PrecisionHawk and two dozen other manufacturers is now in its second month. It was formed by the FAA when drone presence was noted to be interfering with U.S. public safety in events like sports, emergencies (EMTs, fire response, etc.), aircraft landings, etc. UAS Task Force participants include elements from manufacturing, retailing, hobby and retail groups, and governmental units serving public safety and aircraft regulation.
Warning of Statistics: The drone incident statistics appear to be insignificant on the surface. Consensus is that one percent of drone users have insufficient “common sense” or are seeking to violate reasonable boundaries designed to preserve public safety and security. An estimated one in a thousand drone operators lack that common sense, while one in ten thousand are seriously malevolent. In terms of the anticipated 700,000 drone sales before Christmas, 700 new owners will lack that common sense, but 70 new owners will be up to “no good.”
Recommendations to Safeguard the Public:The UAS Task Force recommendations will exempt registration of unmanned aircraft weighing less than 250g purchased this Christmas season. Very low end drones also may end up being exempt. If drone operator limitations require operator presence within several hundred feet of a drone, that drone may also be exempt from regulation, per CEO Young.
Quandary of Designing Regulations: Drones are remotely controlled devices. They may be manipulated at great distances and operators may control them from a variety of venues, e.g., mobile devices, computers, cell phones, etc. Monitoring from a public safety point of view is convoluted. The clear majority of drones are too small to be detected by conventional radar. In design of a monitoring tool, there are issues relating to operator as well as drone. Current technical capabilities would permit identifying the site of drone operation as well as location of drone in real time, but those capabilities have not been developed at this point.
PrecisionHawk Anticipating Tracking Needs: The company’s “Low Altitude Traffic and Airspace Safety” system is currently in development and in the prototype testing stage in North Carolina. The system integrates 4G wireless, satellite, GPS, and radio tracking technology to establish drone and operator location.
Public Comment Period: The UAS Task Force recommendations are just the beginning step in regulation. The FAA will integrate these recommendations with comments received during a public comment period. The timeline for FAA formal rule regulation is set for December. Another public comment period will be set at that time. The FAA will then develop its final regulation, promulgation set for 2016.
Future of Private Drone Regulation.The FAA is charting new territory. However, the outlook for drones to be used by all citizens is positive. There is no reason to doubt robust future Christmas drone sales.