Actually, the title of this and other news stories is very misleading regarding exactly what has to be registered. The generally uninformed or marginally informed public believes the definition of a 'drone' is anything that flies without a human pilot in the cockpit. It associates the greatly dramatized and sensationalized reports of public encounters with what are technically classified as Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) - multirotor copters. These are for the most part the variety sold in toy stores ranging in cost and complexity from $50 for a basic 4-propeller 'quadcopter' to $500 for a 6-propeller model with an onboard camera and maybe even a First Person View (FPV) wireless system that allows the pilot to fly from a vantage point on the craft while remaining at a remote location on the ground. Professional multicopter systems with programmable GPS-based navigation and gyro-stabilized, gimbaled camera platforms can cost more than $10,000. The toy class of multirotors heretofore required no license or registration whereas the professional version did in some cases depending on weight and operation venue.
All that changes as of today, December 21, 2015. Thanks in large part to morons who create a public nuisance by flying too close to humans, animals, cars, boats, buildings, etc., the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) now requires registration by ALL operators of model aircraft that weigh between 0.55 and 55 pounds (250 G to 25 kg) for entry into yet another government database. By ALL aircraft that means whether radio controlled or not - including control line models and even free flight if within the weight limits. UAS does not limit itself to multicopters, but to every form of model aircraft whether it be a fixed-wing airplane, a helicopter, or even a blimp. Model rockets are already covered under other statutes.
This first phase (there are always more phases to come with government regulations) imposes a $5 registration fee for a permit that lasts three years. Along with having your name and address on file as a UAS owner/operator, you are required to affix your registration number somewhere on the model where it is easily viewed.
The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), the world's largest model aviation organization and advocate, has been in negotiation with various personnel and departments within the FAA for many years in an attempt to secure a differentiation between members of such a group and the 14-year-old girl down the street who buys a 'drone' at K-Mart and proceeds to terrorize neighborhood dogs and old ladies with it, or the more well-funded adult moron who buys a wireless-camera-equipped octocopter and uses it to fly around the neighborhood at night to capture streaming video of a woman getting dressed for bed while hovering silently outside her upstairs window. After expending huge amounts of time and money and even receiving tacit assurances of accommodation, the FAA's final draft effectively told the AMA and its members to bend over and grab the ankles 'cause they're coming after you, too.
The largely unspoken - but in thrush primary - motivation for this action is the potential for someone or some group to mount a terrorist operation using an FPV-based system as the delivery vehicle. Of course we know Jihadists will be first in line to register as UAS operators so the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will know who and where they are.
The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) has been in continual existence since 1936 and currently boasts over 175,000 members (I have been a member since sometime around 1970-1972 - AMA #92498). It manages 2,500 chartered clubs and flying locations across the United States, conducts many public exhibitions and education events yearly, collectively donates hundred of thousands of dollars and man-hours to community causes, provides a plethora of services to members and non-members, and guarantees liability insurance of $2.5 million per incident to every member. It is clearly a responsible organization that has been exceptionally successful at self-policing activities. All that means nothing to the FAA, even though as far I know there have been no incidences of AMA members being cited for activity that has spawned registration and regulation.
I wrote to the AMA last winter warning of being too optimistic about their relationship with the FAA. Top brass at the AMA were pretty certain their petitions for mercy would be heeded, and that the membership was safe from being included the final ruling. To wit from the AMA Government Relations Blog:
"At this point, there is nothing the government can do to manage the activity. The FAA doesn't have the time, money, or resources to try to manage the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of modelers who have been attracted to this new technology."
Not having the money means diddly-squat in this era when multi-trillion-dollar deficits are the order of the day and nobody cares about fiscal responsibility. Not enough resources? Simply hire more government workers and grow the bureaucracy - it's all good. The Federal Reserve ('the Fed') can create all the funding needed at the push of a computer key.
The AMA is currently in continued talks with the FAA to try to exempt AMA members from registration, and instead provide the FAA with AMA's membership database and allow the use of AMA numbers, which are already required to be affixed to all aircraft per the bylaws. I, personally, am opposed to this imposition, and especially the possibility of the AMA handing its member information over to the government. If the FAA runs this program like they run Obamacare, I will likely loose the AMA liability insurance like I lost my old medical coverage. If the FAA issues a guarantee that, "If you like your flying field, you can keep your flying field," I know we're screwed.
Posted December 21, 2015