The Current FAA Drone Registration Doesn’t Address Drones Very Much

I registered my drone. Well, actually, I registered myself as a drone owner. Because the FAA mandated that we all register our drones, I went to the FAA UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) website to register my DJI Phantom 3 Pro (which is a really nifty drone). It turns out that only US citizens can register drones. So green card holders, visa holders, visitors, and illegal immigrants don’t have to register their drones. But since I’m a citizen, I created my account, typed in my name, address, phone number, and credit card info, which resulted in a registration ID that I am to mark on my drone. There were no questions about how many drones I have, nor what type, nor even the serial number(s). What this means is that I registered myself, putting my information into yet another government database that will become public information sometime, thus allowing advertisers and fraudsters yet another way to get my info. And, of course, if the site is ever hacked, the info will get out even quicker.

I had to put my credit card info in, because drone (owner) registration costs $5, though that fee is waved for a while. Rather than just not charging me and needing my credit card info, I will be charged, then refunded the $5, which seems to be the least efficient way to do it. Someone is losing money on those two transactions, whether it is the government or the credit card company or both, but such things aren’t free.

So now that I’m registered and when I mark my drone, what good will it do? Unless someone crashes their drone while doing some forbidden activity and the police get the ID number, there’s no way to track a rogue drone to its owner. Most of the cases we heard about on the news where drones were flying near firefighters and emergency personnel (or spying into windows) didn’t have the drone being recovered by law enforcement. Instead, the owners flew the drones away, so nobody could see the ID numbers.

So in my opinion, the current registration scheme doesn’t do much to match drones with owners, except in cases where the drone crashes, but it has added a new bureaucracy at the FAA with user fees to help support it. There are much better alternatives to this ineffective system, and I’d bet drone makers and owners would be better served by them. I have suggestions:

Most modern fancy drones have one or more radio transceivers as well as GPS positioning in them. The drone receives commands from the controller and sends back status information. Many drones also send back camera video, which is a reasonable high data rate. So they have fairly powerful radios that can send for half a mile or more. I suggest that every few seconds, that radio could send out identifying information as well as the drone’s position and maybe even the takeoff/landing coordinates on a designated frequency. This would be sort of like IFF beacons on aircraft, and would let law enforcement know which drones are nearby, where they are, and where their operator is. That’s information that can be used if the drone enters airspace it shouldn’t or causes a nuisance. Perhaps this could be added to existing drones via a firmware update, but could certainly be mandated for all drones sold after a certain date. Of course the drone manufacturers would have to be on board, but I think it is in their best interest to make sure the hobby maintains a safe and lawful reputation.

If the drone manufacturers think making changes to the in-flight radio is dangerous and could compromise flight safety, the handheld control unit also has powerful transceivers and could do the job nearly as well. It sends commands to the drone and receives telemetry as well as the video stream, so its radio could send the ID/position beacon without interfering with flight safety.

In either case, a technical solution would provide information that is much more useful. Even better, it would do so for all drones, not just those owned by US citizens who have registered. I think the drone hobby is fun and always take care when flying my drone, but I can understand the need for regulations. I just think the regulations should make sense and be effective.

Comments are closed.