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FAA: Over 181,000 Of You Have Registered Your Drones So Far

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The Federal Aviation Administration released two somewhat conflicting messages at CES: A lot of people have already registered their drones, but that statistic isn’t the most important part of the story.

“We’re very encouraged by the numbers so far,” said FAA administrator Michael Huerta at a press conference here on Wednesday. As of 6 a.m. PDT Wednesday, 181,061 people had registered drones at the agency’s self-service site.

Huerta commended drone manufacturers for working quickly with the FAA — the registration site went up only 60 days after the start of its rule-making process — and offering constructive suggestions to ease registering unmanned aerial vehicles.

Huerta emphasized that registration isn’t about punishment or revenue (the FAA, which by law can’t allow free aircraft registration, charges $5 per registration) so much as education. “It provides us a key opportunity to teach about safety to a new generation of airspace users,” he said, adding later that “It will also help them become part of the safety culture that has become deeply embedded in commercial aviation.”

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Huerta made a point of not calling people flying drones “operators” or “users”: “When they fly outside, they become pilots.”

At the press conference, Huerta was joined by policy makers and executives with companies building or operating drones: Consumer Technology Association’s tech-policy vice president Doug Johnson; Dave Vos, project lead for Google X’s Project Wing; 3D Robotics general counsel Nancy Egan; and Brendan Schulman, DJI’s vice president for policy and legal affairs.

“We’re on the cusp of democratizing the airspace,” Vos said. “In order to do this, a tremendous amount of responsibility must be built.”

“The public-private partnership worked,” Egan said. Shulman agreed: “The registration framework is unquestionably better as a result of industry participation,” Shulman said.

For example, industry representatives pushed for instant online registration that would cover every drone owned by a person instead of requiring one registration on paper for each aircraft. They also got the FAA to allow drone operators — er, pilots — to place a drone’s registration number inside the vehicle instead of on the outside, an option that will allow drone users some anonymity (unless they actually crash the thing into somebody’s backyard).

Manufacturers and retailers are also working to streamline the registration process further. CTA’s Johnson said the Arlington, Virginia, trade group is working with manufacturers to standardize serial numbers, while Huerta said the FAA will let drone-piloting apps do instant registration by scanning a code on the drone.

At the same time, 181,061 people is a lot less than the 400,000 drone sales CTA estimated for the holiday season, much less the 1 million the association projects for this year.

Drone manufacturers, for their part, continue to worry about privacy and the FAA’s geographic restrictions and emphasized that drones are making the world safer overall.

“A blanket geographical limitation on flight is the wrong approach,” DJI’s Schulman said. He mentioned that DJI’s apps allow users to fly drones in areas subject to FAA warnings if they verify their account and choose to unlock the default restriction: “What we can do is put in place something that creates a decisional moment.”

“Despite the alarmist headlines from 2015… the technology story from my point of view is a net gain in public safety,” he said, noting the use of consumer drones to detect emergencies. “Quite often, it has been a recreational drone user who has been in a position to help.”

Some manufacturers are responding to the FAA mandate by opting out of it in the one way possible. The rule exempts drones weighing under .55 pounds, and at a press event Skyrocket Toys emphasized that all of its upcoming line of drones will fall below that line with a sticker: “No FAA Registration Required!”

14 thoughts on “FAA: Over 181,000 Of You Have Registered Your Drones So Far

  1. FAA is NOT registering drones. They are registering the pilots. These toys used to be called model airplanes before they became “evil”…

  2. “181,061 people is a lot less than the 400,000 drone sales CTA estimated for the holiday season, much less the 1 million the association projects for this year.”

    Three probable reasons for that:

    1. Their sales numbers are inflated
    2. Many aren’t bothering to register
    3. Most of that sales figure consists of under 250 gram toy drones that don’t need to be registered instead of the “killer” $500 and up type that cause the incidents we hear about in the news

    1. And the fact that some people own multiple “drones”. Or were given as presents to children who have no idea that they need to register themselves.

  3. I like the concessions the FAA has made. First of all, individually registering craft was just impractical for hobbyists because oftentimes what we really have is an inventory of parts that can be any number of functioning craft at any given time. The biggest one though, at least in my opinion, is the concession made on the external ID requirement. If required to display an ID on the exterior of a drone, like tail numbers on an aircraft, that would leave private operators open to situations like having Tinfoilhat McGunnut down the road spot the drone through a pair of binoculars, reading the ID off it, and using that to find the operator’s name or something from a public database. The compromise of moving the ID to the interior gives operators anonymity while still holding them accountable should their craft be recovered from the scene of an incident. Some really good thinking.

  4. First let me say that this new popup window for comments is not working properly. I’m scrolled all the way down on my browser, but I can see that the 3rd comment is being cut off, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to see it after I make this comment.

    Now, on to business. It’s sad to see that so many people have decided to give away their rights so easily. There is no reason to require these registrations. As Christopher Howell mentioned, it’s not about the drones, it registering the pilots. They want to know how to arrest you in the quickest and easiest way possible. This isn’t about education. If they can’t legally make registration free, make it $0.01. There’s nothing stopping that, but they didn’t. Then to put a (what was it?) $30,000 penalty on there for not registering? Tell me again how this isn’t about money… You know what? NOT registering is FREE. If an unregistered drone goes down and they have no way of tracking it, the price of a lost drone is far cheaper than $30,000.

    I’m not buying the rhetoric they’re selling. This is not freedom. This is more government overreach. I’m as progressive as they come, but I cannot support this regulation.

      1. Thanks! The revert to the embedded comments (at least for Waterfox) is very much appreciated. Your web team is great. I commented before on the nice newer style layout, and the response time to fixing issues is great! They all deserve a raise.

          1. Maybe I was too quick to announce success. I clicked on your comment to reply via the Disqus side panel, and that took me to an embedded comments version of the article. When I visit pages from the main page of Makezine.com then the problem persists. Sorry for the emotional roller coaster.

          2. Now it truly is fixed, there’s a scroll bar. Thank you very much. If you wouldn’t mind passing along one other bug I found, I’d appreciate it. After closing the comment popup, the button for making it show up can no longer be activated. If I reload the page, it works again, but not without reloading or navigating away and back.

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Rob Pegoraro tries to make sense of computers, consumer electronics, telecom services, the Internet, software and other things that beep or blink through reporting, reviewing and analysis–from 1999 to 2011 as the Washington Post’s tech columnist, now for a variety of online and print outlets.

View more articles by Rob Pegoraro