A defense funding bill now on its way to the White House for President Trump’s signature includes a provision that would reinstate mandatory registration for recreational small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) weighing less than 55 pounds.
Passed by the Senate on Nov. 16, 2017, the National Defense Authorization Act includes language that would overturn a May 2017 judicial ruling that stopped the registration requirement on the basis that the FAA was prohibited from regulating model aircraft.
Once signed into law, the reinstatement would apply only to hobbyist sUAS flying under Part 101 regulations, and not sUAS flown by commercial operators under a Section 333 exemption, or under Part 107 rules, which became effective in July 2016.
Reinstating registration for hobbyist sUAS may offer safety benefits as the FAA and the aviation industry work to gather user data to help safely integrate unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system, said Heidi Williams, director of air traffic services and infrastructure for the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA).
“That is an ongoing process, and registration of recreational sUAS may be helpful in determining all the players,” she noted.
The FAA initially required hobbyists to register their drones up to 55 pounds. The $5 registration was good for three years.
However, a federal appeals court determined last spring that the requirement ran afoul of laws prohibiting the FAA from regulating model aircraft, which are governed separately under Section 336 of the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act.
The FAA countered that the sUAS registration requirement was not a new rule, but rather “a decision to cease its exercise of enforcement discretion.” The court ruling left open the possibility that Congress would later act to clarify the agency’s oversight authority.