As expected, the FAA has published a change in their rules pertaining to drones to their Federal Register, which will require all drones to display a registration number as an external marking on their UAV. And drone operators will have ten days to do so.
This interim final rule requires small unmanned aircraft owners to display the unique identifier assigned by the FAA upon completion of the registration process (registration number) on an external surface of the aircraft. Small unmanned aircraft owners are no longer permitted to enclose the FAA-issued registration number in a compartment. – Published change to Federal Register, 14 CFR Part 48
The original FAA regulation allowed that the owner’s registration number could be in or on a drone from .55-55 pounds, thereby allow for it to be kept inside the battery compartment, and not necessarily displayed on the fuselage of the drone itself. However, the new regulation addresses a concern that first responders would be exposed to a potential danger of a concealed explosive device should they handle a suspect drone to open a compartment in order to ascertain the registration number to trace the drone back to its owner.
Simply put, all registered drones must now prominently display a “tail number,” much like airplanes do, which is easy to see on the fuselage of the drone itself. The registration number must also be maintained in a condition that is readable and legible upon close visual inspection.
The FAA had planned to insert the change as early as late 2016, but a lawsuit that challenged a lack of legal authority for requiring registration of drones and UAVs had to wind its way through court, or Congress had to address it directly, which is what happened in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. In that act, Congress gave the FAA the authority to require both registration and displaying of numbers. The act also granted many agencies to track and shot down a drone it deems threatening.
Consequently, it looks like there will be no 30 day public commentary period before the rule is adopted, as the FAA views this change as being good cause for dispensing with comment procedures due to the security concerns involved. “Requiring small unmanned aircraft owners to place the registration number on an external surface of the aircraft helps to mitigate this risk because a first responder can view the number without handling the aircraft,” the notice continues, “or by using other technologies that allow for remote viewing of the aircraft’s external surface.”
All drone operators will have ten days from the date of publication, effective 2/13/19, to add their registration numbers to their drones, before they may fly them. The FAA Drone Registration portal can be found here.
Moreover, the FAA is also considering adopting of a rule that will require all drones to broadcast an identifier through a radio beacon built into the UAV, which will identify both the drone’s location and its owner information. That rule comes in response to the Gatwick incident, where a passenger plan was allegedly impacted by a drone, causing the Britain’s second busies airport to shutdown, stranding over 100,000 passengers. The incident is still a mystery, as no drone has been recovered, and there is no indication if a drone was even involved. But the possibility is still cause for concern.
Frankly, I think both are good ideas.