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Congress aims to restore drone registration

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images Congress aims to restore drone registration
Courts tossed the idea earlier this year, but in the new National Defense Reauthorization Act of 2018, the program returns.

By Alan Levin and Daniel Flatley

The government’s registration system for owners of civilian drones would be restored in a defense policy bill agreed to by House and Senate negotiators.

The measure boosting aviation regulators’ ability to regulate the burgeoning world of small unmanned vehicles was contained in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2018, a bipartisan compromise that is likely to be passed by both chambers.

The registration was imposed at the close of 2015 as the number of safety incidents involving drones soared and officials sought a way to ensure owners of the devices understood aviation regulations. However, many operators objected to what they saw as an intrusion into their right to fly and seized on language in a 2012 law that said drone hobbyists were exempt from regulation by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington overturned the FAA drone registration system in May, finding that earlier legislation passed in 2012 didn’t give the agency legal authority for it. A one-paragraph addition to the defense bill said that the registration system "shall be restored" as soon as the legislation becomes law.

The FAA had registered 838,620 people as owners of at least one drone and estimates that 2.3 million of the devices will be sold for recreational use in the U.S. this year. As of Nov. 3, only 609 people had taken the FAA up on its offer to refund their $5 fee for the registration, according to the agency.

"The FAA doesn’t comment on pending legislation," it said in a statement. "However, the agency originally put registration and operational regulations in place to ensure that drones are operated in a way that is safe and does not pose security and privacy threats."

Read more: U.S. FAA to Charge $5 Drone Registry Fee Starting Dec. 21

The registration had covered devices weighing more than 250 grams (0.55 pounds). In addition to registering, owners also were required to attach an identification number on each drone so they could be located if a drone crashed or flew away.

Two associations representing drone users signaled Thursday that they support at least the concept of a registry.

“We are glad Congress has embraced this policy,” Brian Wynne, president and chief executive officer of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, said in an email. A drone registration system “promotes responsibility by all users of the national airspace.”

Academy of Model Aeronautics spokesman Chad Budreau issued a statement saying: “We have long held that federal registration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) makes sense at an appropriate threshold of weight, capability and other safety-related characteristics.”

The AMA, which operates clubs for people flying models and drones around the country, believes its own members shouldn’t have to register with FAA because they already do so with the organization, Budreau said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Alan Levin in Washington at; Daniel Flatley in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at

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