Drone registration – the positives and the challenges that remain

The United States and Ireland are both shortly to announce the rules of their compulsory drone registration schemes for leisure drone users. Both countries are seeking to get a registration scheme up and running for the Christmas period when large numbers of new drones are expected to be bought. For the U.S. concerns over the rapidly increasing numbers of drones seen in proximity to manned aircraft has led to a need to quickly identify potential solutions, with registration being an option that is now being taken up. The UK experience of near misses this year highlights the problems for the regulatory authorities. To date this year, Airprox, the body who investigate near misses between aircraft in the UK, has investigated 12 near misses between drones that have involved drones, and in every instance the drone and its flyer could not be identified.

The Expert Group tasked by the US Federal Aviation Administration to recommend proposals for the new US drone registration process have reported back and the FAA are now considering their recommendations and other comments they have received. From the details that have been released it has been recommended that the American scheme will require those flying drones weighing 250 grams or more will have to register on the FAA run database, in contrast to the Irish scheme which appears to be set at a weight of 1 kg or more for registration to be required.

The American Expert Group recommendations would only require a single registration to be made even if a person owns more than 1 drone, with the ID number that is given out at registration having to be displayed on all drones owned by the person registering. Registration under the American scheme will be for the drone owner to do either via the internet or smartphone app.

These are the basic details we have, but is it going to be worthwhile? Obviously it will provide a greater possibility for the regulatory authorities being able to identify those who have violated the applicable flying rules, but it should not be seen as a magic solution for everything. There will remain some serious issues

My personal view is that anything that might focus the minds of the leisure drone flyer in terms of flying their drones safely within the rules, has got to be a positive thing.

Whilst identification might be made easier when reports of drone mis-use are made, much will depend on the precise circumstances in each individual case. If a drone has left the area after allegedly violating air rules, whilst the authorities will have details of who owns drones in a particular area, and have a starting point by which to identify who the flyer may have been, there are likely to remain both resource and evidential problems. How much time and effort will the police use in trying to track down a particular drone and its flyer? A registration scheme of course works best when the drone remains at the scene, for example when it has crashed.

The American Group of experts have it is reported recommended that it will be for the drone owner to register after they have bought their drone. Obviously, there will be large numbers of existing drone owners who will now need to register, but it seems to me a weakness going down this route as there would seem to be the risk that a drone owner simply does not get round to registering. Why not have the registration process as part of the actual purchase? The answer in the US case may be due to those who were on their 25 group expert panel; 5 of whom clearly represented retail interests, with strangely Amazon allowed two representatives. It would seem that their fear was that if the registration process was tied into the purchase this could impact on the sales process and actual sales made by the retail companies.

Another potential issue for states who may look to go down the registration process is who will manage and pay for the registration system? With so many recent examples of personal information being taken from databases there is also now the ever present concern over data security.

It is likely that many countries will watch the U.S. and Irish schemes with interest, and follow suit if they are achieving tangible results.

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