NDAA brings back drone registration


The National Defense Authorization Act that Congress passed on Nov. 16 reinstates the Federal Aviation Administration’s registration rules for small, model-aircraft-sized drones.

The NDAA is on its way to the White House for the president’s signature.

The rule for small drones, which the FAA classifies as unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds and more than 0.55 pounds, were set in 2015 and aimed at managing the growing numbers of the aircraft in increasingly crowded national airspace. The online registration requirement included a $5 fee for both commercial and recreational drone operators using such aircraft.

The online registration system launched in December 2015, and more than a half-million unmanned aerial vehicles were registered in the first year.

A model aircraft hobbyist, however, filed suit in appeals federal court saying the requirement for small noncommercial unmanned aircraft violated 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which states the FAA "may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft."

The court of appeals agreed last May, saying the registration requirement “directly violates … clear statutory prohibition [s].” It added, however, that Congress was “always free to repeal or amend” the 2012 prohibition on the FAA’s model aircraft rules.

The FAA declined FCW’s request for comment on the reinstatement pending the bill’s signature by President Donald Trump.

The reinstatement drew praise and caution, however, from various sectors of the aviation industry and aircraft owners.

“We have long held that federal registration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) makes sense at an appropriate threshold of weight, capability and other safety-related characteristics,” Academy of Model Aeronautics spokesman Chad Budreau said in a Nov. 17 email to FCW. “However, we believe the existing thresholds should continue to be refined through rulemaking, as the FAA has yet to issue a final rule in this matter. ”

The academy has backed alternative methods, including using its official membership numbers as registration.

On its government blog page, the organization urged members to abide by the reinstated rules.

In a Nov. 17 statement, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association said it supported the provision. “AOPA supports registration of unmanned aircraft systems ‘to promote accountability and safety of UAS operations in the National Airspace System,’” AOPA Director of Regulatory Affairs Justin Barkowski said.

“The Small UAV Coalition applauds Congress for restoring Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authority to maintain a national UAS registry,” that group said in a Nov. 10 statement as House and Senate negotiators hammered out details in the NDAA’s final version.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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