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FAA readies drone registration rules

FAA readies drone registration rules
© Greg Nash

The task force that was set up by the Federal Aviation Administration to develop a system for drone users to register with the federal government is expected to release its recommendations on Saturday.  

The FAA has been working with a task force that was set up last month to craft a registration system for drones after an increase in the number of aircraft pilots who have reported seeing the devices during flights.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said Friday the forthcoming registration system is necessary to ensure drones can operate safely alongside commercial flights.

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"Registration will instill a sense of accountability and responsibility among UAS pilots, and also will prompt them to become educated about safe flying in the National Airspace System (NAS)," he wrote in a blog post on the Department of Transportation's website.

"For those who choose to ignore the rules and fly unsafely, registration is a tool that will assist us and our law enforcement partners in finding them," Huerta continued. 

The FAA has been in the process of developing rules for commercial drones for the better part of three years, but the new rules will also apply to recreational devices.

Huerta said his agency is trying to finalize the rules for registering drones ahead of the holiday season, which is expected to see brisk sales for drones. 

"By some estimates, as many as 700,000 new unmanned aircraft will be sold during the holiday season," he wrote. "Pilots with little or no aviation experience will be at the controls of many of these aircraft. Many of these new aviators may not even be aware that their activities in our airspace could be dangerous to other aircraft -- or that they are, in fact, pilots once they start flying their unmanned aircraft." 

Lawmakers who have raised concerns about potential privacy violations from increased drone use have praised the transportation department for moving to require registration.  

“We require car registration to ensure safety and accountability, and we should do the same for drones," Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said when the drone registration task force was set up.  

"We have rules of the road, but in this Brave New World, now we need rules of the sky," Markey continued. "Standards for informing the public and promoting accountability must be put in place now to protect safety and individual privacy as the drones are taking flight.”

Drone advocates have said they are glad to be apart of the process of crafting a registration system for the devices.

"AUVSI welcomes the opportunity to join this task force of government and industry stakeholders," said Brian Wynne, president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, after he was he was appointed to the panel.

"This collaborative effort to develop an efficient process for UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] registration should lead to increased accountability across the entire aviation community," he continued.

Wynne said it is important for the FAA to finish crafting its rules for increased drone use while it is working on the new registration system, however.

"In addition to UAS registration, it is essential for the FAA to finalize its small UAS rules as quickly as possible," he said. "Once this happens, we will have an established framework for UAS operations, allowing anyone who follows the rules to fly. Considering that safety is at stake, time is of the essence to finalize the rules." 

Recreational drone users, who have bristled at the FAA's methods of tracking close calls, have cautioned that the registration process should not be too burdensome for hobbyists who are using drones for noncommercial purposes.  

“The term UAS has been applied to a broad range of platforms from toys with limited capabilities to large, sophisticated systems that weigh hundreds of pounds," the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which is also participating in the task force on drone registration requirements, said in October. 

"Registration of UAS that meet an appropriate threshold of weight, capability and other safety-related characteristics 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," the model aeronautics group continued.

-This story was updated with new information at 1:51 p.m.