Deja Vu All Over Again: Drone Registration and The Drone Integration Pilot ProgramGuest Post by Mark Dombroff, Esq.

Congress directed the FAA to integrate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the National Airspace Systems (NAS) in 2012. That task was supposed to be completed by 2015. While the FAA hasn’t met their mandate, they have made considerable progress. But, with that having been said, during the last several months many believe the FAA has stalled in making any meaningful progress in implementing this five-year-old Congressional mandate. 

Currently, the two highest profile items in the drone world are registration and the recently announced Drone Integration Pilot Program. But, wait a minute! Didn’t we go thru the whole registration exercise nearly two years ago only to have the court system tell the FAA “not so fast!” And what about the much-promoted FAA Test Sites?

Some skeptics might suggest that the newly announced Drone Integration Program is really nothing more than a re-packaging of the Test Site program with some tweaking. One thing they [Test Site Program and the Drone Integration Program] do share in common is that the Federal Government is not funding either. It’s almost like the FAA is more a cheerleader than a player.

Now I have nothing against the absence of federal funding. In fact, I have nothing against the FAA being a cheerleader. But, at the end of the day (and, for that matter, the beginning as well), the FAA is the regulator and enforcer and is not well suited to simultaneously promoting the growth of the drone industry. For years, the FAA was charged with promoting and regulating the aviation industry until their legislative mandate was changed and their role as regulator became their sole role. Now that hasn’t meant they don’t work with industry. They clearly do so. But it does mean that they’re not charged with the growth of aviation.

One of the problems with the drone industry, at least in my opinion, is that the FAA is too involved in promoting its growth when it should be more focused on getting a regulatory structure in place which allows the industry to grow itself. Some might say the Integration Project is, by and large, a growth program designed to move a stalled initiative forward and address a wide spectrum of issues hampering growth of the industry.  So long as the Integration Project is used as a vehicle which assists in creating a regulatory structure, we could see some real progress.

The registration program, for safety and security purposes, is absolutely required and, but for the FAA seemingly ignoring the 2012 Congressional mandate of not regulating hobbyists/recreational users, should have been implemented, in some form, two years ago.

A suggestion . . . let the FAA regulate and take them out of the promoting business. Either let the industry figure out how to grow by itself, subject to FAA regulation or let the DOT . . .. not the FAA . . . get involved.

One of the best things to happen to the FAA recently is Dan Elwell, the new Deputy Administrator. Charged with addressing the issues associated with discord and problems with the Drone Advisory Committee, he did a very effective job. But he shouldn’t even be put in that position. Drone integration into the NAS in the highly regulated world of aviation is a big enough job. Let’s not make it more difficult.

About the author

Mark Dombroff concentrates his practice on the aviation and transportation industries, including litigation, regulatory administrative and enforcement matters, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigations, airport and aircraft security, and employment issues.

In 2014, Mark founded the annual UAS Symposium to address the growing body of drone laws and regulations. Panels composed of FAA, insurance and industry representatives discussed such topics as FAA appropriation issues, legal and regulatory obstacles in deployment of anti-drone technologies, the Part 107 waiver process, state and local drone laws, buying and selling UAS services, and other contractual, commercial and insurance issues.

mark.dombroff@leclairryan.com