With recent changes in laws, such as the FDA’s calorie count requirement and the state of Texas requiring that every computer technician hold a “private investigator’s license” (criminal justice degree/3 year apprenticeship required), it is no surprise that American citizens are worried that their government may be regulating too much. Such concerns rise to the surface again now that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will require registration of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). While it is definitely reasonable to question laws and regulations concerning free speech, information/media censorship and many others such as the examples above, however when it comes to the usage of remote control airplanes, quadcopter (“Drones”) and other unmanned aircraft systems, the FAA does have a serious point.
Last year in California during the middle of the infamous fire season, several private quadcopters were flying within the zone of a massive wildfire spread over Interstate 15. During this wildfire, 20 vehicles were scorched and aerial firefighting operations (one of the main methods to contain wildfires) were halted for around twenty minutes due potential dangers that could have arisen from the UAS in the area. These quadcopters could have easily entered the engines of fire department airplanes or interfered with helicopter rotors further dangering the lives of airborne firefighters as well as ground crew. A representative of the U.S. Forest Service, John Miller, stated that three of the five UAS left the scene, however two pursued the lead plane with goals of recording the action. The FAA later said that they were notified of drones operating in the area.
There was a legislation introduced in California which, if passed, would increase fines and potential criminal punishment for operators that choose to interfere with fire operations in the future. Another legislation would allow for the fire department as well as local law enforcement to take down UAS out of the sky. There is currently a wide range of methods being developed to take down quadcopters and other unmanned aircraft systems. Conventional methods such as anti-UAS systems that launch nets into the air, radio jammers to bring disable quadcopters and the usage of law enforcement UAS to hunt and bring down private UAS. Unconventional methods include the training of falcons and eagles to hunt drones in their territory. All of these methods have been proven successful by different entities and organizations.
While bringing down UAS may not be an issue, Identifying the operator’s behind them can be. This is where the FAA steps in with the FAA Small Unmanned Aircraft Registry. The program will begin on December 21, 2016 and will require owners of UAS to provide a name, address, and email address. Upon registration, the owner/operator will be presented with a Certificate of Aircraft Registration/Proof of Ownership as well as a unique identification number which must be marked visibly on the body of the UAS similar to your car’s license plate. The FAA will require all UAS weighing more than 0.55 pounds and under 55 pounds (including onboard cameras and other payloads) to be registered. This does not only apply to quadcopters but extends to model aircraft and remote control airplanes as well.
Under this registry the FAA believes that they will be able to monitor and prevent scenarios similar to the California wildfire incident, educate the public on unmanned aircraft safety, and increase the safety of the skies for everyday citizens.