Registration of drones more ‘show’ than ‘substance’

I was flying back to South St. Paul yesterday morning after a short flight to Red Wing, when the traffic-alert device chirped that there was a plane nearby as I flew just north of the 3M Chemolite plant in Cottage Grove.

I looked around and couldn’t find it, but suddenly a Cessna appeared just above me and less than a football field away, starting a hard left turn to avoid me as I pushed my plane’s yoke for a steep descent.

Collision avoided. It was a little closer than I would have liked, but it’s generally routine to find other planes nearby, and “see and avoid.” It usually works pretty well when trying to avoid birds as well as planes. And there are hundreds of birds between here and Red Wing, certainly more than any Christmas rush on drones/quadcopters is going to create.

The other plane, like mine, was registered with the Federal Aviation Administration, a fact that did nothing to avoid a near miss.

And that’s a fact where the latest attention on drones falls short with the FAA’s attempt to require all drones/quadcopters be registered with the government. It’s more show than substance.

“First, it gives us an opportunity to educate operators about airspace rules so they can use their UAS safely,” FAA administrator Michael Huerta told a congressional panel last week. “Second, registration will help us more easily identify and take enforcement actions against people who don’t obey the rules or operate safely.”

It’s a silly notion, however, that a pilot would be able to read a registration number on a drone; I was too busy to try to read the “N-number” on the little Cessna filling my windshield, and those letters are as high as a drone is wide.

“Do we expect pilots to see tiny numbering on these drones from their cockpits? I don’t think so,” Marc Scribner, research fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, tells the St. Cloud Times.

“I’m hoping they’re not making us (register products) at point-of-sale,” Jason Wester, manager at Baker’s HobbyTown in Waite Park, tells the paper. “That would just be a nightmare.”

And it probably won’t do much good other than to give the appearance of more safety in the skies.

The comment period for the FAA proposal ends this week. A task force, including a representative from Best Buy, will figure out how to implement the new rules.