WASHINGTON—Keeping track of which drone is which may soon become a bit easier now that the Federal Aviation Administration has ruled that small unmanned aircraft must display official registration numbers on the outside of the aircraft.
Previously, owners of small unmanned aircraft were permitted to enclose its FAA-issued registration number in a compartment inside of the device, as long as the compartment could be opened without a special tool.
Starting Feb. 23, however, a new ruling issued by the FAA and the Department of Transportation stipulates that small unmanned aircraft owners must display the unique identifier — which is assigned by the FAA after registering the device — on the outside surface of an aircraft.
Public comments on the issue range from supportive to outraged. Some drone operators expressed concern (via the federal electronic rulemaking portal Regulations.gov) over government overreach. Others asked for more detailed descriptions from the FAA on exactly where a registration number should be affixed. Others pressed the FAA to modify that ruling so that it only applies to commercial drone operators.
According to the FAA, this rule change is necessary to enhance the safety and security of those on the ground seeking registration information from an unmanned aircraft. With this new ruling, the FAA said that individuals will now be able to view a unique identifier directly without needing to handle the aircraft.
Though the rules flip-flopped in 2017 and 2018, current FAA rules now dictate that unmanned aircraft systems must be registered if they weigh more than 0.55 pounds but less than 55 pounds. Commercial entities operating drones weighing more than 55 pounds must apply for special authority with the FAA.
Nearly two years ago, the Department of Homeland Security formally requested that the FAA change its rulemaking, saying small unmanned aircraft “can 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,” said DHS Director L. Eric Patterson in a letter to the FAA.
“Registration information that is external and does not require handling of the UAS would permit safe collection of registration information without having to access the battery compartment or another closed compartment and would facilitate rapid assessment of the threat,” he said.
The FAA is asking for comments on the ruling before March 15. Commenters should use Docket Number FAA-2018-1084.