Feds to require drone registration after close calls
By Fox News
The Obama administration -- in a bid to start tracking personal drones and address safety concerns in advance of a holiday season when the industry projects thousands more will be sold -- announced Monday it will require the registration of drone aircraft, even for "consumers and hobbyists."
The decision is meant in part to address the growing number of reported close calls and incidents that pose safety risks. Pilot sightings of drones have doubled since last year, including sightings near planes and major sporting events.
Federal Aviation Administration chief Michel Huerta said registration will increase pressure on operators to fly responsibly, adding "there will be consequences" when they don't.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stressed that the DOT is "bullish" on technology in the transportation sector, noting drones are helping farmers, entrepreneurs and even the movie industry. But citing the "astounding" growth in the industry and the safety issues, he said: "We're going to require operators of drones to register their aircraft just like commercial drone operators do currently."
To work out details, the FAA and the Transportation Department are setting up a 25-to-30-member task force including government and industry officials and hobbyists. They'll recommend which drones should be required to register and which should be exempted, and design a system that would be easy for commercial operators to comply with, the department said.
Toys and small drones that don't present a safety threat are likely to be exempt. Drones that weigh only a pound or two or that can't fly higher than a few hundred feet are considered less risky. Heavier ones and those that can fly thousands of feet pose more of a problem.
There is no official count of how many drones have been sold in the U.S., but industry officials say it is in the hundreds of thousands and will easily pass a million by the end of the year.
The FAA is scrambling to get the registration rules in place before Christmas. The Consumer Electronics Association has forecast that 700,000 drones will be sold this holiday season.
How the industry responds is an open question.
Registering drones that could pose safety risks "makes sense, but it should not become a prohibitive burden for recreational users who fly for fun and educational purposes and who have operated harmoniously within our communities for decades," Dave Mathewson, executive director of the Academy for Model Aeronautics, said in a statement.
The FAA now receives about 100 reports a month from pilots who say they've seen drones flying near planes and airports, compared with only a few sightings per month last year.
So far there have been no accidents, but agency officials have said they are concerned that even a drone weighing only a few pounds might cause serious damage if it is sucked into an engine or smashes into an airliner's windshield.
In an example of the mounting tensions with regulators, the FAA recently proposed a record $1.9 million fine against an aerial photography company for flying drones in crowded New York and Chicago airspace without permission.
SkyPan International Inc. of Chicago operated 65 unauthorized flights between March 2012 and December 2014 in some of the nation's most congested airspace, the FAA said in a statement.
Hobbyists are allowed to fly drones as long as they stay 5 miles away from an airport and fly no higher than 400 feet. The FAA has granted about 1,700 permits to commercial operators with similar restrictions.
The FAA signed an agreement last month with CACI International Inc., an information technology company in Arlington, Virginia, to test technology that could locate the operators of small drones that are flying illegally near airports. The technology would let the government track radio signals used to operate drones within a 5-mile radius and identify the operator's location.