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Drone Task Force Report to FAA on Mandatory Drone

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The drone registration task force has now issued its recommendations to the FAA concerning plans to require registration for commercial/civilian drones. But the FAA’s plan for mandatory drone registration still has major problems. CEI transportation policy expert Marc Scribner warns that the process and the plan itself are problematic:

Based on the information leaked by task force representatives to the press over the past couple of weeks, none of the recommendations are surprising. While we appreciate the fact that the task force apparently recognized that the Department of Transportation does not have the authority to require point-of-sale registration, we are still disturbed by the way in which the Department is aiming to implement the rule. 

As FAA Administrator Michael Huerta indicated last week, the Federal Aviation Administration intends to mandate registration by mid-December by issuing what is known as an “interim final rule.” What this means is that FAA plans to initiate an emergency rulemaking, bypassing the required notice-and-comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act by invoking the good cause exception. However, as we noted in our November 6 comments in response to the task force’s formation, mere registration will not mitigate aviation safety risks potentially posed by drones. Yet, for the FAA to dispense with notice-and-comment requirements, it will need to show proceeding through the normal rulemaking procedure will endanger public safety. This makes the forthcoming FAA interim final rule unlawful and will almost certainly result in litigation. 

Further, in requiring that all drones over 250 grams—which includes many harmless toys—the FAA will also be violating Congress’s 2012 prohibition on the regulation of hobbyist small drone use.

In the CEI comments to FAA, submitted November 6, Scribner makes 3 main points about the dubious legality and public safety gains associated with a registration mandate:

  1. Congress prohibited the FAA from regulating model aircraft in 2012’s FAA reauthorization.
  2. Registration alone will not mitigate drone safety risks.
  3. FAA cannot meet the steep burden to justify expediting publication of a mandatory registration rule through emergency rulemaking.