Freedom, forms and the FAA

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If you’re in the US and want to operate a small UAS weighing more than 250g outside you’ve got one month to register or else become eligible for a free three-year vacation from freedom and financial penalties of up to $250,000.

The gate slams shut on February 19 by which time all enthusiasts and commercial operators will have had to complete either an online form, or snail mail, depending on circumstances. The upper UAS weight limit for registration is 25kg.

As far as the rules go, any owner of a small UAS who has previously operated an unmanned aircraft exclusively as a model aircraft prior to 21 December 2015, must register no later than 19 February. Owners of any other UAS purchased for use as a model aircraft after 21 December 2015 must register before the first flight outdoors.

Think of all those newly-ordained UAS operators who either had a pretty generous family or treated themselves to a spiffy new bit of kit, wanting nothing more than to fly outside for a little while.

Sorry, there’s a form to be filled in first. A form I would have liked to demonstrate to all you QuillorCapturians, but it seems someone had different ideas about offering it up as content to viewers outside the US.

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Anyway, take my word for it that registrants will need to provide their name, home address and e-mail address. Upon completion of the registration process, the web application will generate a Certificate of Aircraft Registration/Proof of Ownership that will include a unique identification number for the UAS owner, which must be marked on the aircraft.

US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx had this to say: ‘Make no mistake: unmanned aircraft enthusiasts are aviators and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility.’

One wonders if enthusiasts of hobby-grade RC cars are considered drivers, or captains and commanders are being made from those looking to try out their little RC yacht on the local pond.

The argument is of course not as simplistic as that.

The FAA are dealing with a technology that can pass unhindered over boundaries that otherwise worked in a 2D environment. Hobbyist UAS are not bound by the same rules as their ‘UGV’ counterparts having to park their mini-Nascar on the side of the street while the SUV passes.

Those UAS whizzing about at low level, 10 metres say, are an obvious risk to the public, while the more advanced hobbyist platforms can get to heights that begin to interfere with manned aviation making final approaches (or take offs).

It’s more a case of taking the first tentative steps in making people accountable for how they choose to follow their hobby.

However, this will only catch people who have registered and subsequently misuse their UAS. Presumably such misuse will most likely have been accidental, or minor in nature, but perpetrators could face civil or criminal action as a result.

Rogue UAS operators who choose not to register can, therefore, stay clear of this accountability process, leaving authorities back to square one when it comes to determining proof of misuse or trespass into restricted areas.

So, the US and FAA have played their hand. The question now is how the rest of the world will also adapt to small UAS and the army of enthusiast aviators looking to take to the skies.

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