In just about a week, drone registration numbers will now need to be marked somewhere on the outside of the aircraft, according to a new rule posted by the Federal Aviation Administration in the Federal Register.
There are no rules around where on the external surface any drone registration numbers must be marked, or any particular size the number needs to be. It simply states that the number must “be seen upon visual inspection of the aircraft’s exterior.”
The rule goes into effect on Saturday, Feb. 23.
It had previously been okay for drone operators to mark their registration number in an interior compartment of the drone, such as a battery case.
But law enforcement and security officials didn’t like that. The FAA in a prepared statement specifically cited concerns about the risk a concealed explosive device might pose to first responders upon opening a compartment to find a drone’s registration number.
While the rule does go into effect in about a week, it is actually an Interim Final Rule, meaning it is also inviting public comment (you can submit comments between now and March 15, 2019 at this link and search for “RIN 2120-AL32.
“The FAA issues interim final rules when delaying implementation of the rule would be impractical, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest,” the FAA said in a statement. “In this case, the agency has determined the importance of mitigating the risk to first responders outweighs the minimal inconvenience this change may impose on small drone owners, and justifies implementation without a prior public comment period.”
The FAA’s drone registration rules frequently evolve — often to the confusion of drone pilots.
The program was instituted in December 2015, and required hobby drone owners to register through an FAA website for a $5 fee. Drone hobbyists were then issued a unique identification, which they were required to mark on their drones. Within the first month, nearly 300,000 drone owners had registered.
But in May 2017, the requirement that hobby drone users register their devices was struck down in an appeals court, referencing the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which stated that the FAA “may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft.”.
Then, the rule was again reinstated in December 2017 via the National Defense Authorization Act.
And the drone registration requirement, which seems to have been put in place so law enforcement can identify the owners of rogue drones, has been not just confusing, but also controversial. Some drone users suspect that the drone registration requirement was in reaction to events such as a drone crash near the White House in January 2015, though the drone operator in that crash voluntarily came forward.
“They want to be able to identify the drone operator if there’s an accident or bad use of the drone,” said Colin Snow, founder of drone research firm Skylogic Research in a former article on The Drone Girl. “But who is going to register their drone and then commit a nefarious act?”
Drones have been spotted flying too close to airports as airplanes take off or over fires where crews need to clear the area. An 18-month-old boy’s eye was cut after he was hit in the head by a crashing drone.
One more thing to note: the rules around drone registration have led to the creation of a new industry — scam drone registration websites. Sites like FederalDroneRegistration.com and FAADroneZones.com pose as official FAA drone registration sites, but instead of charging you a $5 fee — they charge you as much as $200. To date, it is required that all pilots register. Just don’t pay more than $5 to do it.
The FAA says there are now more than 1 million registered drones in the U.S.