How To Solve The FAA Drone Registration Problem, In One Simple Step

As I’ve previously reported, the Department of Transportation and the FAA have announced they intend to register all drones above some unknown threshold, including those bought at retail by average consumers and hobbyist. They have set themselves the lofty goal of gathering a committee of industry and government stakeholders in 30 days, and have a program in place 30 days after that, just in time for Christmas. To say the least, this is overly ambitious. So instead, here is a more effective, cheaper, and faster method to address the issues.
Let’s first define the basic goals:

  • Encourage responsible behavior and accountability when operating UAS.
  • Identify the owner/operator of a UAS in case something bad happens.

What has been proposed so far, that we know of, involves a massive government operated database with registration information for UAS aircraft, big and small. To limit the scope somewhat, it was suggested that there would be some level of size or capabilities that would not be subject to registration.
There are a few big problems with this plan, including:

  • How to encourage/force 100% participation
  • Trying to use existing manufacturer’s serial numbers be used to ID aircraft
  • Possible need for fees to pay for the system
  • Creating an intelligent size or weight class that is exempt
  • Protecting an electronic database from hacking and identity theft
  • When to collect registration, point of sale or at consumer point of first use
  • Timeline to complete the system

So here is my proposed alternate solution, and how it addresses each of the above concerns:

  • A metallized foil label with space for Name, Address, Phone Number
  • Applied by the consumer upon first use of the aircraft
  • No requirement to do anything else prior to flight

FAA-label

First, to the basic goals:

  • When a user knows their name and ID is attached to the UAS, they then know that there are consequences to them personally if something goes wrong. This idea may be lost on younger people, but probably not on the parents. Most people will have good intentions when they fly, but the thought of having their personal info attached may help reenforce acting responsibly. Adding ID to the aircraft has a secondary benefit for the user – In case it harmlessly crashes or depletes it’s power, it may help get their valuable aircraft returned to them.
  • In the case of a crash that results in some injury or damages, any law enforcement or other agents can more quickly identify the owner/operator. Rather than having to contact the FAA to lookup a registration number, the information sought is immediately available. The ID label also allows people to directly workout small claims themselves, similar to how fender benders are handled.

The ID labels have several additional advantages:

  • Participation – If you ask people to fill out registration form, and possibly wait for approval before they fly, the more likely outcome is they will put off the registration for later, and play first. However it is during this learning phase where accidents are most likely to occur, so the opportunity to attach a registration to the aircraft was lost. On the other hand, if it is as simple as writing the users name and contact info, they are highly likely to do this prior to their first flight.
  • Zero ongoing cost – The DoT/FAA would simply define the minimum label size and information required. There would be no database, website, security monitoring. The result of this is zero fees.
  • Minimum size/weight – can be set to the smallest aircraft that can carry and have place for the label.  If the aircraft is smaller than that, it will likely be less than 100 grams or 4 inches in size, which presents minimal risk for property damage or injury.
  • Zero chance of database hacking. The labels essentially are the database, so the ‘data’ is completely decentralized, and only accessible to those that provide it and those that require it.
  • The labeling program can be defined and required by Christmas 2015 if the label is provided by the consumer (just a footnote – everything that will be sold by year end has already been manufactured and is sitting in the distribution chain in boxes, so there is nothing any manufacturer can do this year).
  • Every AMA registered hobbyist should already be in compliance.

In life, there are complex problems, and there are complex solutions. The former does not require the later. This may be a complex problem, but the solution can be made very simple.

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