FAA Announces Big Numbers in New Drone Database

Written by Carly Sitrin

By Carly Sitrin
BU News Service

A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration announced on Wednesday that more than 181,000 recreational drone users have registered with the FAA’s online database since the system went into effect on Dec. 21.

In a speech at CES, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the administration was encouraged by the numbers of owners who have complied. Registrants of drones that weigh more than 0.55 pounds must pay a $5 fee and mark their drone with an ID number.

According to the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the organizer of CES, sales of drones in the U.S. weighing more than the 0.55-pound threshold for registration is slated to reach 1 million units in 2016. That would be more than double the amount from 2015.

And with all of these new “pilots” flooding the airspace, safety concerns have arisen. In an attempt to educate the public on the federal guidelines surrounding drone use, the FAA released its smartphone app, B4UFLY, on Wednesday. The app accesses the user’s GPS location to determine possible flight restrictions that might be in place “before you fly.”

“Safety is at the core of everything we do,” Huerta said.

But for manufacturers like DJI, federal guidelines could threaten to get in the way of technological innovation.

“We are at the dawn of a new era,” Brendan Schulman, vice president of policy and legal affairs at DJI said at the press conference. Schulman discussed the safety precautions that DJI has taken apart from the FAA guidelines, including altitude location features and geofencing capabilities to section off restricted portions of airspace around airports.

“We want reasonable regulatory outcomes that address safety concerns while preserving operational freedoms,” Schulman said, emphasizing the cooperation between the federal government and drone manufacturers while taking note of the two groups’ ideological differences.

Although the FAA’s new registration database represents a push toward drone user accountability, the implementation of the system presents a few challenges of its own, primarily, the issue of privacy.

Registrants’ personal information is logged in the system and is searchable by law enforcement officials and anyone else who has access to the device’s ID number. And seeing as drones were a popular Christmas gift for teens this year, having a minor’s name and address in a searchable online government database might be perceived as questionable.

The FAA’s response to questions of privacy was to stress that the database is still a work in progress. Huerta said that while the the organization has come a long way from its initial discussion stage, it will still be undergoing changes as more people start to use it.

“This is an important tool in the toolbox,” Huerta said. “We’re working to build a new culture in aviation.”

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