Thursday, December 17, 2015

FAA Publishes UAS IFR

Yesterday the DOT’s Federal Aviation Administration published an interim final rule (IFR) in the Federal Register (80 FR 78593-78648) providing an alternative, streamlined and simple, web-based aircraft registration process for the registration of small unmanned aircraft. The rule requires that all unmanned aircraft systems weighing between 0.55-lbs (250-g) and 55-lbs to be registered with the FAA prior to their being flown in the National Air Space (NAS).


The IFR adds the following definitions to 14 CFR 1.1:

Small unmanned aircraft system (small UAS): and

The definition of ‘model aircraft’ was specifically addressed by Congress in §336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (PL 112-95). Congress defined ‘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

Registration Requirement

Current law {49 USC 44101(a)} requires that “a person may operate an aircraft only when the aircraft is registered under section 44103 of this title”. Until this rulemaking the FAA has not applied this requirement to small UAS. The current regulations governing the registration of aircraft are found in 14 CFR Part 47 and generally require that an aircraft must be registered before it is flown in the United States.

The IFR amends 14 CFR by adding a new Part 48, Registration and Marking Requirements for Small Unmanned Aircraft. The IFR makes a distinction between two different registration types for UAS depending on the intended use of the UAS. For UAS that are intended to be operated as model aircraft, the registration is, in effect, a registration of the owner and each UAS owned by that owner would fall under that registration. For UAS that are not intended to be operated as model aircraft (commercial UAS for instance) each UAS must be registered separately.

Under §48.100(b) the registration requirements for small UAS intended to be used as model aircraft include submitting the following information on the new Web-based small unmanned aircraft registration system (the registration page will not be active until December 21st, 2015):

• Applicant name;
• Applicant's physical address and mailing address if different; and
• Applicant's email address.

The same registration system would be used for small UAS intended to be flown as other than a model aircraft under §48.100(a). The data submission requirements are somewhat different and include the following additional information:

• The aircraft manufacturer and model name; and
• The aircraft serial number, if available

A Certificate of Registration would be provided for each registration after the fee of $5.00 is paid. The Certificate would have to be in the possession of the operator whenever the small UAS is operated in the NAS. For model aircraft the registration certificate number would be marked on all UAS owned by the registered owner. For non-model small UAS either the registration certificate number or the aircraft serial number would be required to be displayed on each aircraft.

Registrations would be required to be renewed every three years (new fee required. Registration information would have to be updated whenever it changed (no fee required).

Effective Dates

The effective date of this interim final rule is December 21st, 2015. For model aircraft operated by the current owner before December 21st, registration must be completed under either Part 47 or Part 48 of 14 CFR by February 19th, 2016. All other model aircraft registrations must be completed before the small UAS is flown in the NAS.

For small UAS other than model aircraft must register their aircraft under the current Part 47 process used for conventional aircraft prior to operation in the NAS. Beginning March 31st, 2016 registrations for other than model aircraft may be completed using the new Part 48 process.

Public Comments

The FAA is soliciting public comments on this IFR. Comments may be submitted via the Federal eRulemaking Portal (; Docket # FAA-2015-7396). Comments should be submitted before January 15, 2016.


I have noted in a number of blog posts (most recently here) that Congress, in §336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (PL 112-95), specifically prohibited the FAA from promulgating “any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft”. And I maintained that this IFR would obviously violate that prohibition. I am not so sure now.

The preamble to this rule undertakes to explain the FAA’s reasoning as to why this IFR does not conflict with §336. The discussion is a tad bit convoluted and legalistic, but I think that it completely ignores the best defense. Because of the way that §48.100 of this rule is written, the regulation does not address, directly, model aircraft. Since under §48.100(b) the registration for model aircraft does not include information about the aircraft it is a registration of the owner. Thus it seems fairly clear to me that the regulation does not violate the letter of §336.

Whether or not it violates the congressional intent of the §336, is an area that is not quite so clear. The original language in this section comes from S 223 in §607(g) where it was added as a floor amendment considered en bloc with no debate (CREC-2011-02-17-pt1-Pg 830) and there is no discussion about the intent in the Conference Report. Lacking any clear explanation of intent, we are probably stuck with the FAA interpretation.

I expect that we will see a number of negative comments about this conflict with the intent of §336, but lacking a comment from Sen. Inhofe (who proposed the amended language in the Senate), I do not expect that the FAA will revoke this model aircraft small UAS registration provisions of this rule. 

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