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Your drone license and registration, please

There have been many news reports about unmanned aerial vehicles violating FAA regulations, but not many about operators being caught.
By Patrick C. Miller | July 09, 2015

There have been many news reports about unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) violating Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, but not many about operators being caught. One reason is because it’s difficult to establish who’s flying the drones or who they belong to.

You don’t get to drive a car without vehicle registration. So wouldn’t it make sense to have a similar system in place for UAVs? Or how about a system to electronically interrogate a drone that lets authorities know who owns it?

“I think it would be very helpful,” said James Mackler, a Nashville attorney with the Bone McAllester Norton law firm who specializes in unmanned aerial systems (UAS) law.

“That’s what we do with manned aircraft,” he continued. “It doesn’t matter if you’re flying a manned aircraft as a hobby, commercial, private, light sport or whatever, it’s identifiable as yours.”

For example, even if a pilot crashed an aircraft in a remote field and walked away from the wreck, the FAA would know to whom the plane belonged. Mackler said it should be the same way for UAVs. He believes that establishing such a system is within the FAA’s authority.

“Maybe they need to get rid of this distinction between commercial and hobby use,” Mackler offered.

The greatest drawback at the moment is the FAA’s process for registering aircraft.

“If you’ve ever tried to get an aircraft or a drone registered, it’s complicated and it’s antiquated,” Mackler said.

He advocates simplifying the process, perhaps by requiring the UAV’s serial number to be registered to a national database at the time of purchase. Online registration is another possible option.

“A hobbyist taking pictures of his kids at the beach shouldn’t have to apply for a registration number through the FAA,” Mackler said.

Like it or not, at some point in the future, there will be a process or system that links a UAV to its owner. Let’s hope that when it happens, it’s as quick and painless as possible.