Today, the FAA announced an “interim rule” for registering model aircraft and commercial UAS.  While the new rule goes into effect on December 21, 2015, the FAA has also created a second “notice and comment” period, and claims that it may modify the interim rule based on those comments.  The notice and comment period closes on December 21, 2015.  The FAA claims that urgent action is required because as many as 800,000 UAS will be sold during the Christmas season, and it wants to have some way of identifying these would-by hobbyists before they fly on Christmas day.

As most of you know, the FAA had previously commissioned a task force to create a series of recommendations for who should register, how it should be done, and what it should cost.  The task force concluded that it would be appropriate to require that any model aircraft or UAS weighing over 250 grams (8.8 ounces) be registered, that the registration should be done on-line, and that there should be no cost to the operator.  The FAA, however, has only adopted some of those recommendations.

For the most important question, what type of UAS should be required to register, the FAA agreed with the task force, and set the bar at 250 grams.  The FAA agreed that the new system should be web-based, but it does not appear at this time that there will be any additional app-based registration options as recommended by the task force.

The FAA has also adopted the proposed “dual numbering” system.  Under this system, commercial UAS would still be given a unique, aircraft-specific number, but model aircraft owners would only be given a personal identification number that would be the same for each of their aircraft.  To get their identification number, hobbyists will have to give the FAA their name, physical address, and e-mail address.

Not surprisingly, the FAA did not agree that registration should be free.  The FAA is charging a $5 fee for each commercial UAS and for each hobbyist who registers in this system.  The registration is good for 3 years, and has to be renewed for an additional fee of $5.  According to the FAA, the total cost of setting up and administering the system, and for compliance by hobbyists through 2020, is $56 million.

The only real surprise from the proposed rule is the FAA’s decision to grant existing model aircraft operators a “grace period” for their compliance.  While any “new” UAS must be registered before flight, model aircraft that have been previously flown do not have to be registered until February 19, 2016.  In addition, while Section 333 commercial UAS operators will be able to use the new system instead of the existing paper registration system, it will not be available to them until March 31, 2016.  This is no doubt due to the amount of additional time it will take the FAA’s contractor to get that part of the system up and running.

For those of you who like a little light reading, all 211 pages of the rulemaking can be found here.