Aviation Week writes that FAA drone registrations have dropped 50% – but why is that and what does it mean for the industry? Has the use of drones decreased as much as the registration, or do pilots simply not use the system?
The total number of pilots who registered drones through the FAA’s online system and commercially registered drones fell from 1,746,248 to 873,144 between December 2020 and January 2021, according to Aviation Week. “As of March 1, the FAA listed a total of 868,421 registrations, consisting of 492,492 recreational aviators and 375,929 commercially registered drones.”
The FAA told Aviation Week that the change “is due in large part to the large number of drone registrations that have reached their three-year expiration date in December 2020”.
“The FAA is continuing to review registration data and plans to launch an information and awareness-raising campaign for drone registration later this year.”
FAA drone registration began in late 2015 – a subsequent lawsuit temporarily suspended the program, but re-registration was required in 2017. We spoke to commercial drone expert Christopher Todd of the Airborne International Response Team (AIRT) and DRONERESPONDERS about why he thought drone registrations had dropped so much.
Todd says there isn’t a single reason registrations have dropped – but probably a combination of several. One of those reasons is simply that the first few numbers likely exaggerated the real fleet. “Three years ago, both the general excitement and bold predictions for the drone industry led to extensive experimentation with and adoption of UAS at the grassroots,” says Todd. “There was a large, unregistered fleet that had accumulated from the Phantom 2 and had to be registered. When the FAA put the registration system in place, all of these aircraft – some of which were likely near the end of their life – had to be registered according to regulations.
“This created an artificial registration bubble at the beginning. The first year of drone registration was not an accurate representation of the growth of the industry, ”says Todd.
Second, many drone enthusiasts who at the time of Part 107 were planning to turn drone operations into part or full time business may have found that consumer demand for drone services could not support them. “Those distant pilots who entered the industry with visions of greatness soon realized that building live drones can be difficult,” says Todd. “A lot of these people seem disappointed (as can be seen in Part 107 of the Renewal Numbers) and have other careers.”
The same disillusionment could apply to the recreational fleet. “For many recreational pilots, drones may have been a passing hobby and have since turned to other endeavors. In either case, this group saw no need to re-register their UAS. “
After all – and this is where drone media and the FAA need to help get the word out – pilots may not be aware of the need to re-register drones. The three-year registration period for drones ends for many who have registered as soon as it was necessary to do so. “Some operators have probably just forgotten to renew their drone registrations. The government has historically not been very aggressive in sending out renewal notices. The DMV will usually send you a reminder to register the vehicle. If you don’t take action, you run the risk of being run over and receiving a traffic quote. With COVID-19 spreading around the world, it is entirely possible that the need to re-register drones has fallen off the radar. “
The drone registry provides important data that could influence future decisions about drone regulation. But how can the FAA and other stakeholders encourage drone operators to take this seriously? While the 5 minute and 5 dollar process is an extremely small barrier to compliance, Todd says it may actually be too low. “I’ll also say that the $ 5 registration fee for a 3-year drone registration is a bit absurd. The FAA undervalues both itself and the UAS industry,” says Todd. “I would like this fee to be increased to at least $ 5 per year for all UAS. This would bring more revenue to the FAA for the UAS effort while also helping to improve the professionalism of pilots in the UAS sector. “
“It makes little sense that the fee to operate a UAS in the National Airspace System for three years costs less than the price of a combo meal in a typical American fast food restaurant. The FAA should reassess the current structure of registration fees. “
Drone pilots who haven’t registered because they weren’t sure if they have to should read this article for more information on registering drones – even super-light models like the Mavic Mini. To register a drone, start here on the FAA registration page.
Miriam McNabb is editor-in-chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a marketplace for professional drone services, and a fascinating observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Author of over 3,000 articles focusing on the commercial drone space, Miriam is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high-tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For advice or writing in the drone industry, email Miriam.
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