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The Gadget Guru’s Notes and Opinion Regarding The DOT FAA Drone Registry Press Conference

Monday, October 19, 2015

Today, the FAA and DOT held a press conference for, what we’re led to understand, was to announce future registration procedures for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), aka, copters, quad copters, multi-rotors and yes, drones. Like many other copter owners, I watched the Press Conference with interest and below are my notes along with my commentary regarding the announcements made today. Yes, I was typing fast and furious!

The Bottom Line:

The DOT and FAA want to create a registry that can allow numerous Government agencies and various local authorities to easily and quickly associate a specific copter with its owner. This will be accomplished by creating a registration process and easily accessible database.

How will they be doing this? 

I honestly don’t think they know yet. But they are telling us that it will be easy and quick to do. All indications that came from the press conference is that this will be accomplished online, but no specifics were announced. I’ll add that when I heard the FAA state it would be creating a “streamlined registration method,” my first thought was that I’ve heard this before and it brought back memories when the Government announced the launch of the Affordable Care System, aka Obamacare. We all know how smoothly that went. Granted, we’re not talking about the huge number of applicants the ACA demanded and the strains on the systems it created, but no specifics on how they would be doing this were announced.

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Who’s Involved In The Decision Making?

The FAA spokesperson stated this organization is bullish on technology, is aggressively following new developments and have met with various manufacturers. However, from what I witnessed, it seems that the driving force behind the implementation were those associated with commercial and not consumer usage. It seems the Government is relying upon the input from the AMA for guidance on how to address consumer issues.

While I can’t speak for others, I don’t know too many copter pilots, especially those who have entered this hobby within the past two years who are members of the AMA. It seems the AMA caters to those who fly winged aircraft and only fly on AMA fields. This is puzzling to me that the consumers and quad copter user groups are not being properly represented. But it dawned on me that if the Government wanted to get the input from users, there is no group for them to easily contact. What are they going to do, go on Facebook and read countless threads and randomly select a few prolific posters? How about the Dealers? Do they have an organization that can serve as representatives? I guess the AMA was the Governments path of least resistance in addressing and identifying consumer needs. This scares me as I don’t think they have my best interest in mind. Again, I think they are missing the target audience as most copter owners lift-off from their backyards or open areas and not from AMA fields.

Enforcement

The FAA was very clear in stating that its users will have a difficult time in following the rules if they don’t know the rules. While I agree, as we’ve only been provided “guidelines” and not rules up to this point, no rules were discussed today. Even when questioned by reporters, no solid answers were provided. Yes, even my favorite transportation reporter NBC’s Tom Costello attempted to get some answers, without getting solid results.

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So, What Was Said?

Like many press conferences, while not a great deal of information was delivered, the ongoing theme of this press conference could have been summed up in bullet points:

  • A registration process is coming that will create a National Registry database. No information was provided of exactly what information will be required or how it will be validated.
  • Registrations will assist the FAA in enforcing the rules for those who break the rules.
  • Registration will provide accountability as the violators can be identified once a registration process has been implemented.
  • Registration is not the entire solution, it’s just a piece of the future puzzle.
  • The DOT seeks accountability when copters are flying in an unsafe manner.
  • There’s no answers on how much registration will cost.
  • There’s no answers on if transponders or other tracking devices will be required. In fact the FAA clearly stated that finding the copters in violation is not the issue, it’s finding the owners that’s causing them problems.
  • Rules will be based on weight and capacity.
  • Toys or copters with a low life span will not require registration.
  • Geofencing could be a requirement.
  • The creation of this Government registry could bypass standard regulatory processes.
  • The Justice Department will prosecute offenders.

An interesting legal question was raised about the FAA’s ability to regulate and if it has the authority to do so. The answer stated the FAA is not requiring a license to operate, but due to safety concerns it does have this authority.

My Takeaway

So, basically, all I took away from this press conference was simply an announcement that there will be a registration process that will identified by November, 20th and be implemented mid-December. (I’m assuming they meant, mid-December 2015) They want to continue to promote Safe and Responsible use. I guess that means they will continue the Know Before You Fly website and ask manufacturers to place a card in new copter boxes with a few bullet points.

However, reading between the lines, it seems that registration is just the first step and I’ll guess they will place at least part of the burden of new copter registration on the backs of the manufacturers by forcing copters to be activated prior to flight and having the user’s information on file with the Government. Possibly a system could be created where a newly purchased copter will require some sort of code number that comes from a Government registration site to be entered when the copter is initially setup. Here’s an example (I just made this up) of how this will work:

Step 1: New User (let’s call her Lucy) buys a copter from her friendly retailer.

Step 2: Lucy then takes the serial number from that copter and goes online to enter her personal information to complete the registration on a Government website. Upon successful registration, a FAA code (registration number) is provided.

Step 3: Before Lucy can fly her copter, she will need to have it activated by connecting it to her computer and going to the manufacturers’ website and providing the new FAA code number.

Boom: Lucy’s good to fly!

Now, let’s say that’s Phase One, here’s my take on Phase Two:

During Step 2: Lucy needs to take an online test to make sure she fully understands the rules, such as: fly below 400′, only fly line-of-sight, don’t fly over stadiums, don’t do stupid stuff.

This way, once a copter is registered, Lucy can no longer said the she didn’t know the rules and the FAA has just won it’s battle in applying accountability.

Okay, so that takes care of new purchasers, what about existing owners?

From what I learned watching the press conference, it appears they haven’t yet figured what yet to do with the existing copters other than saying that will be required that all copters are registered. But, during another question it seems that registration could be deemed “voluntary,” but penalties could be levied to those who have not registered.

Again, the main theme of this press conference was simply finding a method of connecting a copter to its owner and a database of some sorts will be created. I think it’s safe to say that if person is caught in violation of the current rules and the copter is not registered, there will an some sort of additional penalty. I’ll use automobiles as an example:

If you’re caught speeding, you will be asked for your Driver’s License, Registration and Proof of Insurance. While you will most likely receive a speeding ticket, if you don’t have any of those, it’s likely that an additional violation will be issued.

Reality Check

Let’s face it, with manufacturers forecasting approximately 1M new copters to be sold this holiday season, and with the unwanted press a few rogue copter owners have brought on the entire industry, it seems the Government feels the need to do something quickly and its actions need to be in place by this holiday season.

The question remains: So, who’s going to enforce the new rules? One reporter asked if there would be “Drone Police.” From what I heard, it appears the registration will be made available to local Law Enforcement. So, if you’re flying in a park and a Police Officer asks to see your registration, just make it easy and say, “Yes, Sir…or Yes, Ma’am”.

Finally, another interesting point that was raised was that it is illegal shoot anything operating in the national airspace and it’s illegal to drop anything from a drone. I guess that means there won’t be any drone pizza deliveries in the foreseeable future. And when it happens, you can’t shoot the drone if the wrong pizza is delivered.

That’s a good thing!

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