Tuesday, March 1, 2016

FAA Publishes Drone ICR Renewal 60-day Notice

Today the DOT’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published an 60-day information collection request renewal (ICR) notice in the Federal Register (81 FR 10702) to support their registration requirements for small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS). The original ICR was approved on an emergency basis for 6 months when the sUAS interim final rule was published in December, 2015.

The table below shows the burden data in today’s ICR notice and the burden numbers from the currently approved ICR. There is no explanation in today’s notice for the discrepancy between the two sets of numbers.

Initial ICR
Burden Hours

It is not unusual for there to be a discrepancy between an initial ICR and the first renewal. The agency has to rely on estimates for the initial ICR and can refine those numbers from actual data collected once the information collection is in place. The discrepancy noted above is just a tad bit larger than one would typically expect to see.

News reports indicate that the FAA had had about 320,000 registrations early in February, or just about two months into their registration program. Using six times that figure to get an annual number would give just about the 1.9M that is provided in the renewal notice. If that is the basis for the FAA estimates, they need to explain why the initial registration numbers are so much lower than their earlier estimates of the number of sUAS flying before the rule went into effect. That does not even include the ‘millions’ that were expected to be sold during the Christmas holidays and were used as a major part of the justification for issuing an interim final rule without providing for a publish-comment period first.

I suspect that the FAA has a severe compliance issue with this new registration requirement. Since they do not really have an enforcement force that is large enough to go out and look for unregistered drone operators (particularly in the model/hobbyist category), I do not see any real way that the agency can solve that without throwing a bunch of people in a federal penitentiary for failure to register their quadcopters. And I don’t see any Federal prosecutor taking such cases to court unless there is another underlying issue that would make a federal jail sentence reasonable to a jury.

I was taught early and frequently as a Non-Commissioned Officer in the US Army not to give an order that I knew would be disobeyed. It generally reduces respect for authority and specifically undercuts the authority of the person giving the essentially unenforceable order. It is too late for the FAA to learn that lesson now as they now have no reasonable method for removing an regulation that they justified as needing emergency approval. Perhaps Congress can come to their aid and legislatively demand that they revoke the registration order. Fortunately, a large number of the early registrants (myself included) have already had our registration fee refunded.

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