A new federal law firmly establishes the FAA’s authority to require drone hobbyists to register their drones with the federal government. Any drone weighing between .55 lbs (250 grams) and up to 55 lbs. (25 kg) must now be registered with the FAA, regardless of whether it will be used for work or fun.
[Register your drone with the FAA’s sUAS Registration Service.]
The drone registration requirement is a small part of a new $700 billion defense policy bill signed into law yesterday called the National Defense Authorization Act.
Back in May a U.S. court of appeals struck down the FAA’s right to require drone hobbyists to register themselves with the FAA. Since then, hobbyist registrations have declined dramatically, and the hobbyist registration process has been in a legal limbo.
This new law firmly establishes FAA authority for requiring hobbyist drone registrations.
However, the new law also makes a big improvement on the original requirement.
Although many major news sources have been saying that the new law reinstates the drone registration requirement, the law actually improves the previous requirement, since it makes hobbyists register their drones instead of themselves as drone owners.
This might seem nit-picky, but the distinction is huge.
By requiring drone hobbyists to register their drones, and not just themselves, we’ll have more accurate data on what drones are being flown where, as well as a higher level of accountability for all drone pilots, regardless of whether they’re flying for fun or for work.
To put this into perspective, the FAA recently released all of their stats on drone registration and drone ownership. The data showed that there were approximately 107,000 drones registered for commercial work in the U.S., and 837,000 hobbyist drone owners registered.
The gap in data between commercial drones and hobbyist drone owners is staggering. Under the FAA’s previous registration requirements, almost nine tenths (or more, since we don’t know how many drones each hobbyist might have owned) of all registered drone owners in the U.S. are not actually connected through any kind official recordkeeping to the drones they fly.
This means that there’s no data on what kinds of drones those people own or where they own them. It also means that, even for hobbyists who followed the rules and registered themselves with the FAA, the accountability factor wasn’t that high since there was no way to connect a hobbyist’s drone back to the pilot.
We welcome the reinstatement of registration rules for all small unmanned aircraft. Ownership identification helps promote safe and responsible drone operation and is a key component to full integration.
– FAA Spokesperson, in a statement to TechCrunch
The new federal law doesn’t just reinstate the previous drone hobbyist registration requirement. It improves upon it significantly.
The Small UAV Coalition, which includes huge corporations like Verizon, Intel, and Walmart, has issued a statement thanking congress for “restoring FAA authority to maintain a national UAS registry for both commercial and recreational operators.”
We feel the same way. This new law will help keep the skies safer, and will be a positive tool for pushing the drone industry forward when it comes to ensuring that all drone operators are accountable for where, when, and how they fly.