September 26, 2016


There were numerous reports of drones flying near manned aircraft with many of these flying robots causing near encounters with airplanes. According to FAA, unmanned aerial vehicles were responsible for about 41 instances in which pilots of aircraft veered off course. This problem is also prominent when drones flying across major sporting events and interferes with wildlife-fighting operations. In a bid to regulate the activities of hobby flyers and avert possible aircraft disasters, the US Federal Government through the FAA mandated every owner of drones to register as from December 2015.

All owners of model aircraft (above 13 years) that weigh more than half pound to 55 pounds were authorized to provide their names, home addresses, and email to the FAA for a renewable fee of $5 every three years. For any drone to be flown, it must be marked with the owner's unique registration number. According to the FAA, the registration was necessary to ensure that any owner of model airplanes who violates a rule is easily tracked down. Also, the process was aimed at educating amateur unmanned aerial vehicles flyers to ensure that they adhere properly to safety guidelines. 

Even though the call for registration of owners of drones by the FAA was understandable, it drew lots of controversies. According to an Indiana-based Academy of Model Aeronautics based in Muncie, Indiana, the registration was costly, imposing, and needless for users who fly the model aircraft for fun and educational purposes. They believed that it was an unnecessary burden on them, given that they have been operating safely for decades. The opinion of the body was backed by many enthusiasts who believed drones under 5 pounds constitute little threat to commercial airplanes. However, the FAA and industry officials in their reply claimed that drones, like birds, could be sucked into an aircraft engine, smash a cockpit windshield, or damage a critical surface area, thereby causing a crash. 

Furthermore, there were outcries of infringement of rights by owners of the remote-controlled aircraft. They stated that it was legally and morally wrong for the FAA to charge them for flying their drones over their property in the free skies. The FAA in its rules arbitrarily prohibits model airplanes from being flown higher than 400 feet. They backed their argument with the fact that the Congress in 2012, made a law that prohibited FAA from making new rules for recreational model aircraft users who are part of a community-based organization. The law, according to them, expressly prohibited FAA from issuing any rules regarding these hobby aircraft if they meet certain safety criteria. Such registration guideline, according to them, was an unlawful exercise of authority by the FAA. The FAA fired back at their claims, insisting that the prohibition does not in anyway prevent the FAA from registering model aircraft. There is a lawsuit seeking to stop the FAA from continuing with the registration of what drone attorneys referred to as “toy aircraft as though they were real aircraft.”

Many of the industry analysts felt that the mandated registration might not bring forth the desired objectives. They raised fears about the dangers of having details of minors as young as 13 in the public domain. They also believed only responsible owners of the flying robots would partake in the registration, while reckless drone operators with little risk of being prosecuted will willingly avoid the registration. According to them, they feared non-adherence would be backed by low chances of prosecution as there are more serious laws for cops to enforce. To ensure high adherence, the FAA signed an agreement in October 2015 with CACI International Inc., an info-tech company in Arlington, Virginia. The agreement is to allow the U.S. government, through FAA, to easily locate operators of small remote-controlled aircraft flying illegally near airports and other restricted zones. The compliance rate so far has been impressive as over 465,000 users have registered with the FAA

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