2016 has already been a busy year for the friendly skies. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has started to roll out its mandatory drone registrations. So far, in the first month alone over 300,000 drones have been registered by the FAA. But will people registering the devices make the skies safer? As an air ambulance company, nothing is more important to us then safe, uninhibited skies.
One of the reasons the FAA took the step to make drone registrations mandatory is because of a few careless near accidents. Last year alone drones have flown too close to comfort to several commercial flights and have landed in high security areas (like the White House lawn or near the Presidential motorcade). It was estimated by the FAA that there were 241 reported cases of drones flying too close to airplanes in 2015 in the United States. The problem was especially rampant in larger cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. All of these near misses made national news and kept those of us who operate in the skies very nervous.
As a response the FAA has mandated registrations on drones. The rule applies to any drone weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds. The deadline to register is February 19th. But there are still issues to be worked out by the FAA. Even if 300,000 drones have been registered, it is estimated there is around 700,000 drones purchased by hobbyists in 2015 alone. Right now the only rule applies to small drones used for recreation or hobby purposes. The FAA says it is still working on flight rules for commercial drones and hopes to have those rules set by spring, according to NBC News.
If drone owners do not register they could face civil fines and criminal charges. The most serious offenders could risk up to three years in prison. The FAA hopes that these penalties will eliminate those "close calls" that happened last year between drones and airplanes.
The new law is being met with some resistance by drone enthusiasts as well as manufacturers and retailers who sell drones. Some legislation is currently in federal courts, which may appeal or limit the drone registrations.
While the new law may have caught some owners by surprise, there is certainly a need for some way to track drones. Responsible drone owners may not like to have to register a device because of a few bad apples, but the FAA is right in taking some steps to hold people accountable. Just one mishap between a drone and airplane would be disastrous. While more needs to be done, including increasing penalties for anyone convicted of violating federal airspace laws, the FAA is moving in the right direction. What results, if any, from the new law remain to be seen, however.