The response to John Taylor’s FOIA request asking the FAA for records that indicate the recreational drone registration program was ever used to enforce regulations is the latest point of discussion in the argument over the program.
By now, everyone in the drone communitiy knows about John Taylor’s winning lawsuit against the FAA, which determined that the FAA’s drone registration program was unlawful. In response to the federal court of appeals decision, the FAA has made the recreational drone registration program voluntary.
The FAA’s recent notice that they would end mandatory drone registration did not end the argument over the program. “The FAA continues to encourage voluntary registration for all owners of small unmanned aircraft,” says the agency statement. “The FAA is working on a final rule with respect to registration and marking that will implement the court’s decision.”
It seems clear that the FAA will continue to pursue some form of registration. With FAA Reauthorization packages on the table, the wording of the original law could be changed to accomodate the existing program; or the details of the program could change to meet the law. Representatives from the manned aircraft community and participants on the original drone registration task force point out that registration provides an opportunity to educate new operators about regulations; opponents say that there are better ways to accomplish that. And as John Taylor revealed the response to his FOIA request about how often the FAA actually used registration to enforce drone law, one of the FAA’s primary arguments – that registration is a tool to hold rogue drone operators accountable – has come into question.
The FAA response to Taylor’s June 13, 2017 FOIA request “pertaining to enforcement actions arising from operations in which the operator was identified by use of a Part 48 registration number,” stated that “A search of the Enforcement Information System (EIS) and the National Program Tracking and Reporting System (NPTRS), revealed no records pertaining to enforcement actions arising from operations in which the operator was identified by use of a Part 48 registration number.”
Taylor, and many others in the drone community, feel vindicated. “From the outset,” says Taylor, “most of us suspected the registry would not serve its stated purpose. The vast majority of those who registered would be law-abiding citizens, who would never dream of flying recklessly. Reckless fliers would: 1) not register; 2) register, but remove their FAA-issued numbers when they flew recklessly; or 3) simply never be caught because their drones were not recovered.”
“The FAA’s response confirms that, as many of us suspected, the registry has been worthless as a tool to hold people accountable,” says Taylor. “Over 800,000 Americans registered, and paid in over $3,000,000.00, and we have nothing to show for it.”
While maintaining that registration is simply not effective for enforcement, Taylor recognizes the need for new operators to learn basic regulations. “Had the FAA approached the issue from a standpoint of education, I suspect it would have had the hobby’s support,” he says. But Taylor thinks that manufacturers, not government, should be responsible. While many manufacturers including DJI have contributed to educational efforts like the KnowBeforeYouFly.org initiative, and technology solutions such as geofencing to deal with rogue drone operators, those efforts may not be enough to satisfy the FAA.
“I’ve encouraged manufacturers to provide education, and perhaps require testing, before consumers can access their operational apps,” says Taylor. “That might have forestalled intervention by the federal government, in addition to its intrinsic value.”
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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