The federal government wants drone aircraft to be registered, but questions remain on the logistics of how regulating that can be done.
The government says the number of close calls involving drones near airports, sporting events, and wildfire fighting operations has been increasing. Earlier this year, a drone operating illegally even crashed on the White House lawn. So far, The Associated Press reports no accidents, and many drones can fly only so high and only for a short amount of time. Still, the concern is that bigger drones that fly much higher could be sucked into an engine or crash into things and cause major damage. Therefore, some sort of registration would help authorities trace a drone back to its owner in the event one crashes or is found.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says, "Finding the drone has not been as much of the problem as finding the person who is using the drone, and the registration is designed to close that loophole."
Foxx et al. have announced the formation of a task force compiled of government and industry officials and hobbyists to decide which drones need to be registered and how. A report from that task force is expected in November, and formal rules will be announced in December. That's where Marc Scribner, a fellow following transportation policy for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, sees problems.
“In 2012, in the FAA reauthorization, Congress explicitly told FAA that it can't regulate model aircraft and the way that is currently defined in law would cover a number of the particularly smaller toy-like drones that you can buy online or in stores,” he says. “Second, it isn't clear that the FAA can do this in the sort of timeframe that it's talking about."
Scribner says a new regulation typically involves a formal notice and comment process, something that takes months or even years in some cases. "So for them to say they're going to get this all done in two months suggests to me that they're going to try some pretty 'out there' legal maneuvers," he says.
That is the biggest concern Scribner has about the registration mandate effort. "It would set a dangerous precedent in administrative law generally," he warns.
As for the reported cases or close calls involving drones, Scribner tells OneNewsNow he thinks a lot of them are overblown.
"Yes, registration could help law enforcement and the FAA identify certain reckless users,” he says. “But for a lot of the operations and a lot of the sort of scare stories we hear about, registration will do little to no good.”