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LEGAL VIEW BY JEFFREY ANTONELLI Aircraft Registration On December 21, 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) opened the new registration system for model aircraft to the public. The task force creating this system was announced at a hearing on October 20 of that year, and the Interim Final Rule establishing the online system was not announced until December 14, 2015. This article will discuss what the current registration requirements are for model aircraft operated solely by hobbyists as well as some backlash over the new registration program. I will also discuss the differences between what is required for hobbyist registration and what is required for commercial registration. Jeffrey Antonelli, Antonelli Law With a legal background in corporate outside counsel, civil litigation, insurance defense, and intellectual property and drone/ UAV law, Jeffrey began flying radio-controlled aircraft several years ago, which lead him to research new technologies, including firstperson viewing (FPV) and drones. New requirements The FAA is now requiring that all hobbyists must go through an online system once to obtain a unique registration number, which they will place on model aircraft currently in their possession as well as to all model aircraft purchased in the future. Hobbyists must create an online account at register, provide their home address and email address, and pay a fee for three years, with the renewal fee to be determined. The FAA has stated that it will refund to everyone who registered before January 19, 2016. When registering, hobbyists must agree to abide by certain community standards, including operating no higher than 400 feet above ground level (AGL), keeping the aircraft within their visual line of sight, and not interfering with manned aircraft, many—but not all (see below)—of which are regarded by many as commonsense safety standards that have been in place for years. Registrants will then receive a unique identifier number that they would place on each unmanned system they own that weighs between 0.55 pound (which, according to FAA FAQs, is just heavier than “two sticks of butter”) and 55 pounds. Hobbyists would only need to go through this process once to obtain their unique identifying number, which is meant to be placed on the body of the model aircraft or in a battery pack as long as it can be accessed easily and without the use of tools. However, if they want to operate their drone to make money or if it weighs more than 55 pounds, they will need to go through the penand-paper registration process described below. Although the online registration system is much simpler than the paper registration process required for commercial users, it does require access to an email account and may be confusing for the generation of hobbyists that managed to live the majority of their lives pre-Internet. All hobbyists who wish to operate their RC airplanes after February 19, 2016, will be required to register themselves as hobbyists, labeling their model aircraft with their unique identifying number. Violations may lead to civil fines of up to ,500 and criminal penalties of fines up to 0,000 and/or up to three years imprisonment. Community backlash Not surprisingly, since the October 20 task force announcement, there has been community backlash over the FAA’s decision. Questions have been raised about whether putting a number on a drone won’t stop cowboys from operating improperly and noting that registration numbers won’t be visible from afar. There are many who question whether the FAA even has the authority to require model aircraft registration. After all, Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 prohibited the FAA from “promulgat[ing] any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft … if [it] is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use.” There are also privacy considerations. Although the FAA is not releasing information regarding hobby registrants to the public, there is no guarantee that the secure database won’t be breached, leaving many folks’ personal contact information—and credit card information—vulnerable. One lawsuit, Taylor v. FAA, has already been filed over the new registration requirement, arguing that, in Section 336, Congress prohibited the FAA from creating such a system. The judge in that case denied Mr. Taylor’s request to prevent enforcement of the new hobbyist registration rule until the court decides the case on its merits. Safe operations Since the inception of the idea of registering hobbyist drones, the FAA has emphasized that the goal is to provide a nationwide program of safe operations. After all, driving a car is a nearly universal experience, and there are nationwide standards that everyone is aware of from a very young age. For example, we stop at red lights, give way to emergency vehicles, and use turn signals when changing lanes. With drones, many people who are coming into the community do not have similar experiences and need to learn the “rules of the sky.” There is now confusion, however, over what exactly the community rules are. Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act lists the statutory requirements for safely flying model aircraft. These include operating in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the program of a nationwide community-based organization. Although the law does not specifically list the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) as the nationwide community-based organization, it is widely held that operating within AMA guidelines constitutes operating safely and legally. The AMA guidelines are different from the safety standards listed for new drone registrants in two important 38

“Questions have been raised about whether putting a number on a drone won’t stop cowboys from operating improperly and noting that registration numbers won’t be visible from afar. areas. The FAA asks registrants to agree to keep their drones (1) below 400 feet AGL and (2) within line of sight of the operator. Neither of these requirements is mentioned in Section 336, and the AMA permits these types of operations. AMA members may operate above 400 feet AGL in appropriate circumstances and may also conduct first-person-view operations, where the drone may be flown beyond the operator’s line of sight. The FAA confounds this inconsistency when listing “Dos” and “Don’ts” on its website. The list of “Dos” includes abiding by “aeromodelling community-based safety guidelines,” even though the guidelines are in direct contradiction with AMA requirements. Commercial registration Despite the new online system for hobbyist operators, commercial drone operators are still required to register their drones through the traditional pen-and-paper method required for manned aircraft. At the October 20 hearing to announce the task force, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta discussed how the pen-and-paper system was originally put into place because owning an aircraft is considered a property interest, similar to owning a home or a tract of land. Like many FAA regulations, the system works well for manned aircraft but falls short of being an effective system for drones. After all, a manned aircraft costs many thousands of dollars, more than some houses cost. The most popular drone in the world, a DJI Phantom, on the other hand, costs less than ,000—equivalent to a high-quality bicycle. This current system requires, at minimum, a carboncopy form and notarized affidavit detailing the chain of custody of each unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). If it was purchased from outside the United States, the FAA may also require confirmation from the country of origin’s Civil Aviation Authority that that UAV has not been registered in that country. Commercial registration is currently different than the registration process for hobbyists, which requires a one-time fee and a single number that can be used for multiple airplanes. Each registered commercial UAV requires a fee and will receive a unique N-Number (tail number) that will be tied to that UAV’s unique serial number. It should be noted that the FAA anticipates changing the current pen-and-paper system to a more streamlined online version in March 2016. K Disclaimer: None of this article constitutes legal advice. Please consult an attorney if you have legal questions. Antonelli Law’s associate attorney Amelia Niemi assisted Jeffrey Antonelli with this article. Flight Success 39

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