Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)

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Pending Defense Bill Would Reinstate Hobbyist Drone Registration

Nov. 20, 2017

A defense funding bill now on its way to the White House for President Trump's signature includes a provision that would reinstate mandatory registration for recreational small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) weighing less than 55 pounds.

Pending Defense Bill Would Reinstate Hobbyist Drone Registration

Passed by the Senate on Nov. 16, the National Defense Authorization Act includes language that would effectively overturn a May 2017 judicial ruling that halted the registration requirement on the basis that the FAA was prohibited from regulating model aircraft.

Once signed into law, the reinstatement would apply only to hobbyist sUAS flying under Part 101 regulations, and not sUAS flown by NBAA members and other commercial operators under a Section 333 exemption, or under Part 107 rules, which became effective in July 2016.

"While the reinstatement of registration for hobbyist sUAS does not directly affect our members, it may offer additional safety benefits as the FAA and industry work to gather user data to help safely integrate unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system," noted Heidi Williams, NBAA director of air traffic services and infrastructure. "That is an ongoing process, and registration of recreational sUAS may be helpful in determining all the players."

NBAA is working with industry stakeholders and federal regulators to develop sensible regulatory policies for the safe integration of UAS into airspace utilized by manned aircraft. This includes work by the NBAA Business Aviation Management Committee’s UAS Subcommittee in helping regulators craft standards for the safe operation of all UAS, and developing resources to assist commercial operators in determining which UAS operational category best suits their needs.

Prior requirements for hobbyist sUAS included a $5, three-year registration of any UAS weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds. A federal appeals court determined last spring that the requirement ran afoul of laws prohibiting the FAA from regulating model aircraft, which are governed separately under Section 336 of the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act.

The FAA countered that the sUAS registration requirement was not a new rule, but rather "a decision to cease its exercise of enforcement discretion." The court ruling left open the possibility that Congress would later act to clarify the agency’s oversight authority.