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Drones will soon require registration

Published: October 21, 2015

In this first attempt to track and identify rogue drones, U.S. regulators said they will require recreational drone flyers to register their unmanned aircraft with the government. This decision comes after a recent surge in drone sales and sightings that pose a potential threat to bystanders and other aircraft.

On Oct. 20, officials said the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Transportation Department are setting up a task force composed of government officials and industry representatives to formulate the new registration structure. They envision a system where drone owners would register their purchase online and verify that they understand the basics of drone safety, including guidelines on where drones can fly and under what conditions. They still need to work out the details behind the registration system, such as what sizes and types of drone will need to be registered.

“It’s really hard to follow the rules if you don’t know what the rules are or if the rules apply to you,” said Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx. “The signal we’re sending today is that when you’re in the national airspace, it’s a very serious matter.”

According to the FAA, pilots are reporting more than 100 sightings of or close calls with drones a month. These events were almost unheard of before last year, but as drone sales have increased dramatically the reports are escalating quickly.

Under FAA guidelines, drone owners are not supposed fly above 400 feet or within five miles of an airport. But the rules are often disobeyed, and officials have been largely ineffectual at finding the offenders. This new registration system will mostly be helpful when locating the owner of a crashed drone. Even still, regulators hope that forcing owners—especially those who are aviation novices—to register their drones with the government will make them think about the responsibility behind flying as well as the possibility they could be held accountable for an accident.

U.S. hobbyists are projected to buy about 700,000 drones this year, a 63 percent increase from 2014, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. 

Foxx said the registration rules would apply not only to new owners but all those who have bought drones in the past few years. He said the FAA would impose penalties not yet defined on anyone who does not comply. He also said the task force has until Nov. 20 to finalize its plan so the government can set up the registry before Christmas—the peak season for drone sales.