Big changes are in store for the country’s more than 1 million registered drone users, most of whom fly the unmanned aerial systems as a hobby.
Starting today, drone operators will have to start displaying their aircraft registration number from the Federal Aviation Administration on the outside of the device, not tucked away inside and out of sight.
The policy change by the FAA, a branch of the Transportation Department, means the nearly 1 in 300 people nationwide who owned drones as of December 2017 will now have to update their drones to make sure the numbers are visible.
Brendan Schulman, vice president of policy and legal affairs for drone manufacturer DJI, also worked on the FAA UAS Registration Task Force in 2015. As part of that board, Schulman recommended the registration numbers be allowed to be contained inside and not on the outside.
“The purpose of this compartment option was to protect the privacy of drone pilots, including teenagers, in the event that drone owner information was made public as it is for traditional manned aircraft,” Schulman wrote in an email to the Washington Examiner. ”While we supported reasonable, inexpensive registration for accountability purposes, we did not want a registration number that could be viewed on the drone to lead people to home addresses.”
The Department of Homeland Security asked the FAA in 2017 to update its rulemaking because it said drones had the potential to be a “source of risk, a potential threat, and time consuming for the law enforcement officer to identify the owner/operator for law enforcement, security or safety purposes.”
Timothy Bean, CEO of drone maker Fortem Technologies, praised the change that went into effect Saturday, saying the updates were necessary in to support the $3 trillion drone market.
“We are no longer inching towards a drone-enabled world, rather day by day we’re taking leaps forward and such regulations are another step in the right direction to ensure we can safely support such advancements,” Bean wrote in a statement to the Examiner.
Bean and Schulman are doubtful the change will prevent people from buying drones for personal use just because their registration number would be easier for police to access.
“No, I don’t see many commercial drone operators being upset or deterred by being required to display a unique identifier,” said Bean. “These new policies are a necessary step in getting commercial users closer to a safe and secure regulatory framework which ultimately will help expand operations like BVLOS [beyond visual line of sight], nighttime operations and safe operations over people.”
But Andy Morabe, IXI Technology’s director of sales and marketing, said this new policy is similar to gun laws, which only keep “us honest people honest” and don’t get at criminals who are not expected to print an ID number on the outside of the drone.
“When it comes to unauthorized drone operation, there are the clueless, careless, and the criminal. This new law will capture the clueless and the careless, which are for the most part, law-abiding citizens. This law will do nothing for ensnaring the criminal, which will not register their drones or use stolen or black market purchased drones to carry out their bad deeds,” Morabe wrote in an email.
More changes for drone operators may come as early as this summer.
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