Remote-controlled aircraft larger than 9 ounces would have to be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration, under recommendations described Monday by the leaders of a drone task force.
Drone owners would have to register just their names and physical addresses, under a process the task force said should be free. The aircraft would have to be marked to identify the owner, although not necessarily by the serial number.
“I do want to highlight that we do have unanimity,” said Earl Lawrence, who was co-chairman of the task force as director of drone integration at FAA. “Some decisions were simply compromises.”
The task force created in October submitted its report Saturday to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, who thanked members for their quick work.The two-dozen members of the task force included drone manufacturers, state regulators, airline pilots and police.
Huerta and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx have said they would like to create a registry by Dec. 20 under a proposed rule that is still under development, based on the recommendations and comments they’ve received about drone regulations.
“This community is serious about being accountable,” said Dave Vos, who was co-chairman of the task force as leader of Project Wing at Google X, which is developing delivery drones. “In general, everyone is really quite happy with what happened here.”
Asked about “geofencing,” or software incorporated into drones that would restrict where they fly, Vos said the task force didn’t make any recommendations because members focused on registration.
The registry marks the latest balancing act for federal regulators who are trying to keep the skies safe as drones increasingly share the airspace with passenger planes. Commercial drones, for purposes like aerial photography or utility inspections, are already registered when operators get special permission to fly from FAA.
The proposed registry is essentially to help authorities track down hobbyists if there is a collision with another aircraft or if the drone broke the rules about flying lower than 400 feet and staying miles away from airports.
The challenge is that hundreds of thousands of hobbyist drones have already been sold and hundreds of thousands more are expected to become gifts this holiday season.
Nearly 1,800 comments poured in to the FAA, during an abbreviated period that the task force was developing its recommendations. The comments ran the gamut from urging no registry for recreational drones to urging strict regulation.
Edward Fenner, of Woodland, Wash., said he couldn’t understand how drones could be registered in a workable manner. He questioned who would enforce the requirement because the FAA is already stretched thin.
“I feel registration is a frivolous move to make look like the ‘government’ is doing something about a public safety issue,” Fenner said. “What we do not need is another whole layer of federal (bureaucracy) and personnel to deplete the already overstretched budget.”
But Roger Duffell, of Loganville, Ga., said as a licensed pilot who also registered a commercial drone, he supported registration. He also urged that drones should be programmed to return home automatically if they fly out of range of their remote pilot.
“The trick is going to be getting Pandora back in the box, by stopping the future sale or importation of non-compliant” drones, he said. “As a pilot, I have a vested interest in keeping the (national air space) safe!”
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