Researchers at the Mercatus Center of George Mason University have published public comments to the FAA on the drone registration program, calling the benefits “questionable” and proposing an alternative.
Eli Dourado, Director of Technology Policy Program of the Mercatus Center, which studies the impact of regulation on society, and Samuel Hammond, an MA Fellow at the center, were authors of the study. While the researchers have laid out compelling facts and figures to support their analysis of the costs of drone registration, the message of the piece is clear: the registration program as it stands is not backed by law, the purported benefits of the program are low, and there is an obvious alternative.
The document makes a new argument against the legality of drone registration. While other parties have protested that Section 336 of the FMRA prohibits new regulation, Dourado and Hammond have a new take:
We agree with the FAA that “the prohibition against future rulemaking is not a complete bar on rulemaking.” Instead, our position is that although the FAA may have authority to require non- commercial UAS operators to register their aircraft, it most certainly does not have authority to do so in the context of its plans and policies relating to its required integration of UAS …Congress clearly intended that FMRA not be used as a pretext to diminish the freedom from regulatory burdens that modelers have heretofore enjoyed.
Moreover, while the FAA has existing authority to register aircraft, 14 C.F.R. part 48 requires registration of drone operators effective December 21, 2015. Registration of operators has no basis in existing law, underscoring the IFR as a new regulation regarding model aircraft.
About the benefits of the program, the report is scathing, pointing out that the program is based on the questionable premise that the identification of drones will prevent drone accidents; and that the educational benefit of registration over other educational efforts has not been proven. “While we support educational efforts as an alternative to UAS regulation, we find it doubtful that inserting a single screen between eager hobbyists and their desire to fly their new toys will result in close reading of the safety information presented. Nor is it likely to produce much additional safety. It cannot possibly compare against the millions of dollars in added costs associated with requiring hobbyists to register,” says the report.
Researchers say that an alternative unconsidered by the FAA could be the most beneficial and cost effective: maintaining electronic registration for drones, but not requiring registration for model aircraft operators. While it might be an option supported by the AMA and other groups, this is an alternative that could be difficult for the FAA, who bases much of their authority over hobbyist drones on the oft-repeated “model aircraft are aircraft” statement.
When asked about the current rate of drone registration, Eli Dourado told DroneLife: “It’s not terribly surprising that most people are ignoring the drone registration rules. When most people get a new toy, they want to take it out and play with it, not sit down at the computer and register with—much less pay $5 to!—a distant government agency.”
“The FAA ignored all warnings that most hobbyists wouldn’t comply, and now the agency will have to decide whether to retreat ignominiously or to impose unpalatable fines on ordinary people just playing with their toys. Either way, it’s not going to be good press for the FAA,” says Dourado.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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