The Federal Aviation Administration plans to require drones to be registered -- even by hobbyists.
The announcement comes in the wake of reports of drone flights near manned aircraft and drones interfering with firefighting, and is another move aimed at preventing unsafe drone flying. At the same time, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx at a press conference Monday did not portray registration as a foolproof system and emphasized that "this is not the whole solution, this is just part of it."
The FAA said Monday it is forming a task force which will develop recommendations for a registration process and decide who should be exempt from registration "due to a low safety risk, including toys and certain other small UAS."
The task force is expected to submit a report on its recommendations by Nov. 20. The FAA aims to have rules in place by mid-December -- before Christmas, when many people will be unwrapping drones as gifts.
One of the FAA's biggest aims of requiring registration is to instill a sense of responsibility and accountability in drone users.
"Registration will reinforce the need to for unmanned aircraft users, including consumers and hobbyists, to operate their drones safely," Foxx said. He said registration will also help the agency to "enforce the rules against those who operate unsafely by allowing the FAA to identify operators of unmanned aircraft."
Rich Hanson, director of government affairs for the Academy of Model Aeronautics representing hobbyists, noted during the FAA press conference that many drones "are virtually toys that pose little to no risk," and "the challenge therefore will be striking the right balance in setting the criteria for registration."
Yet to be seen is how operators -- including those who already own drones -- will be required to register, and how the FAA could prevent "bad actors" from simply choosing not to register their drones.
But Foxx said he expects "many, if not most" drone users to comply with registration, and noted that some today may not be aware of the safety rules it is promoting through an educational campaign called Know Before you Fly.
"It's really hard to follow the rules if you don't know what the rules are or if the rules apply to you," Foxx said. "The signal we're sending today is that when you're in the national airspace, it's a very serious matter."
Foxx said the FAA is also working with airports on a campaign "to spread the message that flying around airports and runways in unsafe and will result in stiff penalties and fines." Hartsfield-Jackson International is partnering with the agency on a public service announcement, said airport spokesman Reese McCranie.
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