Why Drone Registration Needs to Happen

There will be people who believe the FAA’s effort to have people register all drones weighing more than 250 grams to be an excessive abuse of Federal Power.  However, as an Aviation Professional,  I take a different view.   It has been said that the Federal Aviation Regulations are written in blood, and anyone with any interest in Aviation can see that this is true.

Unfortunately, often times laws are written in a Reactive fashion, in other words after a fatal event happens.  With Drones the FAA is taking a proactive approach, though one which some may contend is heavy handed and holding US Drone development back.   Though this argument does have some validity, the question must be asked.

Do you trust the general public with Drones? 

People will do stupid things with drones.   They already have.  A former colleague who flies for Google Earth recently had a near miss with a Quadcopter flying at night.  Since the FAA’s proposed rules prohibit Night Flying, this would already be considered an illegal activity.

Another tale must be shared here.  During a meeting at the beginning of this year with FAA representatives, we heard a story from an FAA inspector about an incident that occurred in their office.  The FAA inspectors there were having their morning meeting discussing Drones when they saw one take off from their parking lot.  The FAA folks were curious about this so several of them went outside to the operator and asked him what he was doing.   The Drone Operator told the FAA inspectors that he was doing a construction survey.   Imagine the man’s surprise when he was told that he was operating out of the FAA’s parking lot, and that his activity was highly illegal.

Here is a small roundup of near misses and stupid and nefarious drone tricks.

10 Dumb uses of Drones that Ruin Drones for Everyone

The infamous Stupid Drone preventing California Wildfire Rescue

FAA Close Calls Press Release, August 21, 2015

Wall Street Journal Pilot’s Spot More Drones

Washington Post Close Calls

Washington Post Drone Smuggling to Prison

The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) has also published its own Analysis of FAA Data and has concluded that the risks of near miss have been overstated in many cases.  The analysis does bring up many relevant points.  Many sightings are just that, sightings.  Not every sighting leads to a near miss, and such sightings may or may not present a hazard to the reporting aircraft.  No sane person wants to see a jet airliner lose an engine and crash because of a drone.   So how do you trust people with technology they don’t even understand the implications of.   Even professionals may experience issues operating in an unfamiliar arena with constantly changing rules.

A quick search of local drone companies in our local area shows Drones footage flying over crowds, at night, even over and through a night fireworks display.   Though this footage is unique and interesting to watch, is it a good idea to post such video on the Internet?  Especially if the operation in question does not have an FAA Section 333 exemption.

On the other hand, the FAA has issued warnings to people who have posted Drone Footage on Youtube, as they contend that the commercials appearing there constitute commercial use of Drones, since there is a form of monetary compensation for posting there.   This type of activity certainly does have a chilling effect on the development of potential Drone companies.  Some may see this reaction as excessive, and a means of preventing the growth of commercial drone companies.

Therefore, there is a fine line balancing act between promoting aviation and promoting safety, both of which are part of the FAA’s mandated mission.  In page 2 of the latest issue of their Safety Magazine, the FAA has implemented a system that allows a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) to be published graphically online to allow manned aircraft pilots to see areas of Drone Activity.  If the FAA were truly anti-drone, they wouldn’t be doing such a thing.   Instead, one can see this effort for what it is, a means to serve the interests of both Pilots and Drone Operators while enhancing safety.

From what can be seen, it does appear that the FAA is doing its best to implement rules for drones that will allow their operation while at the same time maintaining a safe National Airspace System.  The essence of this is compromise.   The rules they implement won’t satisfy everyone.  But they will hopefully balance the economic development of Drones with Aviation safety.

The FAA’s Section 333 Exemption process does go a long way towards addressing safety concerns and enforcing Rules while allowing commercial operations.  No 333 operator wants to lose their exemption, therefore they have a vested interest in following the rules.  The same will hold true when the FAA issues its Part 107 rule governing commercial operations.   In the mean time having a system of vetting and verification of airspace knowledge will go a long way towards ensuring safe skies…for everyone.

Registration of even recreational drones will allow some form of tracking to occur.  It won’t prevent accidents due to stupidity or irresponsibility, but it will aid in efforts to enforce the rules.   If we can remember that the rules exist to keep us safe, we may then realize that our desire to fly should never conflict with safety.   We will all suffer if someone who blatantly disregards the rules is allowed to continue operating.

At the very least, registration and tracking of specific operators will allow the FAA to enforce their rules, punish the reckless, guilty, or stupid and maintain a safe Airspace System for us all.  Do I think it is heavy handed to forbid unregistered flight of a small r/c machine that weighs slightly more than a half a pound.  Maybe?   However, I do believe that registering such a machine could prevent some fool from flying it too close to an airport and possibly bringing down a manned aircraft.

Registration won’t deter crazies or terrorists, but it can prevent law abiding citizens from making a possibly fatal error.  If you know that the FAA knows what you are flying, and you are a rational actor, you will probably think twice about violating FAA Regulations.  That’s why Airplanes have registration numbers, so that they can be reported if they do anything wrong.  The same goes with cars.   Registration isn’t a perfect solution, but it can help keep people in line, and will  hopefully prevent them doing stupid things with drones.