[Federal Register Volume 80, Number 204 (Thursday, October 22, 2015)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 63912-63914]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2015-26874]



Office of the Secretary

Federal Aviation Administration

14 CFR Chapter I

[Docket No. FAA-2015-4378]

Clarification of the Applicability of Aircraft Registration 
Requirements for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and Request for 
Information Regarding Electronic Registration for UAS

AGENCY: Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation 

ACTION: Clarification and request for information.


SUMMARY: This document clarifies the applicability of the statutory 
requirements regarding aircraft registration to UAS, including those 
operating as model aircraft. In addition, the DOT announces the 
formation of a UAS registration task force to explore and develop 
recommendations to streamline the registration process for UAS to ease 
the burden associated with the existing aircraft registration process. 
This document requests information and recommendations regarding what 
information and registration platform would be appropriate for UAS 
registration and ways to minimize the burden to the regulated 
community. In addition, we request comment on which UAS, based on their 
weight or performance capabilities, warrant a continued exercise of 
discretion with respect to requiring registration because of the 
negligible risk they pose to the national airspace system (NAS).

DATES: This clarification goes into effect October 22, 2015. To assist 
the task force in developing its recommendations, the Department

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requests that comments in response to the request for information be 
submitted to docket FAA-2015-4378 at www.regulations.gov, by November 
6, 2015.
    The docket will remain open after this time and the Department will 
consider all comments received in developing a registration process.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by any of the following methods:
     Federal Rulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. 
Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
     Fax: 202-493-2251.
     Mail: Dockets Management System; U.S. Department of 
Transportation, Dockets Operations, M-30, Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 
1200 New Jersey Avenue SE., Washington, DC 20590-0001.
     Hand Delivery: To U.S. Department of Transportation, 
Dockets Operations, M-30, Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey 
Avenue SE., Washington, DC 20590-0001, between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., 
Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays. Instructions: Include 
the agency name and docket number FAA-2015-4378 for this document at 
the beginning of your comment. Note that all comments received will be 
posted without change to http://www.regulations.gov including any 
personal information provided. If sent by mail, comments must be 
submitted in duplicate. Persons wishing to receive confirmation of 
receipt of their comments must include a self-addressed stamped 
    Privacy Act: Anyone is able to search the electronic form of any 
written communications and comments received into any of our dockets by 
the name of the individual submitting the document (or signing the 
document, if submitted on behalf of an association, business, labor 
union, etc.). You may review DOT's complete Privacy Act Statement at 
    Docket: You may view the public docket through the Internet at 
http://www.regulations.gov or in person at the Docket Operations office 
at the above address (See ADDRESSES).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Questions regarding this document may 
be directed to Earl Lawrence, Director, FAA UAS Integration Office, 800 
Independence Ave. SW., Washington DC 20591; phone: (202) 267-6556; 
email: [email protected].



    In the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (Pub. L. 112-95) 
(the Act), Congress mandated that the DOT, in consultation with other 
government partners and industry stakeholders, develop a comprehensive 
plan to safely accelerate the integration of civil UAS in the NAS. 
Since 2012, the Department has made progress in enabling UAS 
operations, through issuing exemptions under section 333 of the Act to 
permit commercial operations; creating a UAS test site program to 
encourage further research and testing of UAS operations in real-world 
environments; issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking, Operation and 
Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (RIN 2120-AJ60) (small 
UAS NPRM), that sets forth a framework for integrating small UAS 
operations in the NAS; and developing a Pathfinder program to encourage 
research and innovation that will enable advanced UAS operations.
    A foundational statutory and regulatory requirement that the 
Department has employed for each of these integration programs is 
aircraft registration and marking. In order to operate in the NAS, the 
Department must ensure that operators are not only aware of the system 
in which they are operating, but that we also have a means to identify 
and track the UAS to its operator. One means to accomplish this is 
through aircraft registration and marking. To date, UAS operators that 
the Department has authorized have been required to register their UAS 
through the FAA's existing paper-based registration process under 14 
CFR part 47. As an exercise of discretion, historically we have not 
required model aircraft to be registered under this system.
    UAS hold enormous promise for our economy and for the aviation 
industry. But for the industry to develop to its full potential, we 
have to ensure that it develops safely. Over the past several months, 
we have received increasing reports of unauthorized and unsafe use of 
small UAS. Pilot reports of UAS sightings in 2015 are double the rate 
of 2014. Pilots have reported seeing drones at altitudes up to 10,000 
feet, or as close as half-a-mile from the approach end of a runway. In 
recent weeks, the presence of multiple UAS in the vicinity of wild 
fires in the western part of the country prompted firefighters to 
ground their aircraft on several occasions. These UAS operations are 
unsafe and illegal. However, only a small percentage of these incidents 
have resulted in enforcement actions against individuals for unsafe or 
unauthorized UAS operation because identifying an individual or entity 
responsible for the dangerous operation of UAS is very difficult. This 
situation is troubling to the unmanned aircraft industry, to 
responsible model aircraft users, and to users of the NAS, all of whom 
always put safety first.
    The risk of unsafe operations will only increase as more UAS enter 
the NAS. Some retailers have projected huge holiday sales. We are 
committed to ensuring that the U.S. continues to lead the world in the 
development and implementation of aviation technology, and in doing so, 
that we create a space for the creativity, innovation and exploration 
that will drive this industry forward in the years and decades ahead. 
At the same time, we must create a culture of accountability and 
responsibility among all UAS operators. To maintain safety in the NAS, 
the Department has reconsidered its past practice of exercising 
discretion with respect to requiring UAS to be registered, consistent 
with statutory requirements of 49 U.S.C. 44101-44103, and has 
determined that registration of all UAS is necessary to enforce 
personal accountability while operating an aircraft in our skies.
    Federal law requires that a person may only operate an aircraft 
when it is registered with the FAA. 49 U.S.C. 44101(a).\1\ ``Aircraft'' 
is defined as ``any contrivance invented, used, or designed to 
navigate, or fly in, the air.'' \2\ 49 U.S.C. 40102(a)(6). In 2012, 
Congress confirmed that UAS, including those used for recreation or 
hobby purposes, are aircraft consistent with the statutory definition 
set forth in 49 U.S.C. 40102(a)(6). See Public Law 112-95, sec. 331(8), 
336 (defining an unmanned aircraft as ``an aircraft that is that is 
operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from 
within or on the aircraft,'' and model aircraft as ``an unmanned 
aircraft that is capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere, flown 
within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft, and 
flown for hobby or recreational purposes''); see also Administrator v. 
Pirker, NTSB Order No. EA-5730, at 12 (Nov. 17, 2014) (affirming that 
the statutory definition of aircraft is clear and unambiguous and 
``includes any air aircraft, manned or unmanned, large or small.''). 
Because UAS, including model aircraft, are aircraft, they are subject 
to FAA regulation, including the statutory

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requirements regarding registration set forth in 49 U.S.C. 44101(a), 
and further prescribed in regulation at 14 CFR part 47.

    \1\ The FAA is charged with registering and issuing a 
certificate of registration to the owner of an aircraft that meets 
the requirements of 49 U.S.C. 44102. See 49 U.S.C. 44102-03. These 
statutory requirements are augmented by regulations in part 47 of 
title 14, Code of Federal Regulations.
    \2\ Similarly, FAA regulations define ``aircraft'' as ``a device 
that is used or intended to be used for flight in the air.'' 14 CFR 

    Historically, the FAA, through the exercise of its discretion, has 
not enforced the statutory requirements for aircraft registration in 49 
U.S.C. 44101 for model aircraft. As evidenced by the recent reports of 
unsafe UAS operations, the lack of awareness of operators regarding 
what must be done to operate UAS safely in the NAS, and the lack of 
identification of UAS and their operators pose significant challenges 
in ensuring accountability for responsible use. Without increased 
awareness and knowledge of the statutory and regulatory requirements 
for safe operation, the risk of unsafe UAS operations will only rise. 
Aircraft identification and marking will assist the Department in 
identifying owners of UAS that are operated in an unsafe manner, so we 
may continue to educate these users, and when appropriate, take 
enforcement action.
    Requiring registration of all UAS, including those operated for 
hobby or recreation, embraces and applies the Academy of Model 
Aeronautics' (AMA)'s policy of identification to UAS operators who may 
not be modelers registered with the AMA. Additionally, it would ensure 
consistency with other UAS operations currently required to be 
registered, such as public aircraft, those operated under exemptions, 
and certificated aircraft, as well as those operations contemplated in 
the small UAS NPRM.
    Based on the Department's experience in registering small UAS 
authorized by exemptions granted under the authority of section 333 of 
the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, and the comments received 
on the proposed registration requirements in the small UAS NPRM, it is 
apparent that the current paper-based system for aircraft registration 
is too burdensome for small UAS, to include model aircraft. To 
facilitate compliance with the statutory obligation for registration, 
the DOT is currently evaluating options for a streamlined, electronic-
based registration system for small UAS. The Department has convened a 
UAS registration task force, under the FAA's authority in 49 U.S.C. 
106(p)(5) to designate aviation rulemaking committees. This task force 
will provide recommendations on the type of registration platform 
needed to accommodate small UAS, as well as the information that will 
need to be provided to register these aircraft. The UAS registration 
task force also will explore and provide recommendations on whether it 
is appropriate for the FAA to continue to exercise discretion with 
respect to requiring registration of certain UAS based on their weight 
and performance capabilities. The task force will meet and provide its 
recommendations to the Department by November 20, 2015. To facilitate 
the task force's work, we are requesting information and data from the 
public in the following areas:
    1. What methods are available for identifying individual products? 
Does every UAS sold have an individual serial number? Is there another 
method for identifying individual products sold without serial numbers 
or those built from kits?
    2. At what point should registration occur (e.g. point-of-sale or 
prior-to-operation)? How should transfers of ownership be addressed in 
    3. If registration occurs at point-of-sale, who should be 
responsible for submission of the data? What burdens would be placed on 
vendors of UAS if DOT required registration to occur at point-of-sale? 
What are the advantages of a point-of-sale approach relative to a 
prior-to-operation approach?
    4. Consistent with past practice of discretion, should certain UAS 
be excluded from registration based on performance capabilities or 
other characteristics that could be associated with safety risk, such 
as weight, speed, altitude operating limitations, duration of flight? 
If so, please submit information or data to help support the 
suggestions, and whether any other criteria should be considered.
    5. How should a registration process be designed to minimize 
burdens and best protect innovation and encourage growth in the UAS 
    6. Should the registration be electronic or web-based? Are there 
existing tools that could support an electronic registration process?
    7. What type of information should be collected during the 
registration process to positively identify the aircraft owner and 
    8. How should the registration data be stored? Who should have 
access to the registration data? How should the data be used?
    9. Should a registration fee be collected and if so, how will the 
registration fee be collected if registration occurs at point-of-sale? 
Are there payment services that can be leveraged to assist (e.g. 
    10. Are there additional means beyond aircraft registration to 
encourage accountability and responsible use of UAS?

Comments received by November 6, 2015 would be most helpful in 
assisting the UAS registration task force in developing its 
recommendations. The comment period will remain open after this period 
and the Department will consider the comments received, in addition to 
the UAS registration task force's recommendations, in developing a 
stream-lined registration process for small UAS, including model 

    Issued in Washington, DC, on October 19, 2015.
Anthony R. Foxx,
Secretary of Transportation.
Michael P. Huerta,
Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.
[FR Doc. 2015-26874 Filed 10-20-15; 11:15 am]