US to require registration process for drones

Hobbyists flying small toy drones might be exempt

Hobbyists and companies alike are trying out drones for fun and commercial purposes, and as the sky starts to get crowded there is a growing cry to regulate the remote-controlled aircraft. The U.S. Dept. of Transportation on Monday said it would form a task force that will come up with a registration process for drones by Nov. 20.

The task force will be composed of 25 to 30 representatives of drone and airplane manufacturers, federal officials and other interested parties. Companies including Google and Amazon have been experimenting with drones, officially called "unmanned aircraft systems," (UAS) for product delivery.

Judging from the language in the Transportation Department's announcement, hobbyists flying what could be considered toy drones may escape registration requirements: "The group will advise the Department on which aircraft should be exempt from registration due to low safety risk, including toys and certain other small UAS."

Various state legislatures have already taken steps to regulate drones, sparking controversy. For example, a California bill that would have forced drones to fly at a minimum height of 350 feet (107 meters) when they're over private property was vetoed in September by Governor Jerry Brown in the wake of criticism that it could have damaged the state's drone industry and the economy at large.

The Federal Aviation Administration, a Transportation Dept. agency, already has some rules in place for drones. It limits the flying of drones by hobbyists to a maximum of 400 feet.

Rules previously proposed by the FAA for commercial uses of drones limit the altitude drones can fly to 500 feet.

In addition, some states have already moved ahead with their own legislation. In 2015, 45 states have considered 156 bills related to drones, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Transportation Dept., however, signaled that it wants to avoid a lot of red tape. "The task force will also explore options for a streamlined system that would make registration less burdensome for commercial UAS operators," according to the announcement.

Pilot sightings of drones doubled between 2014 and 2015, including reports involving incidents at sports events, flights near manned aircraft, and drones that interfered with wildfire operations, the Transportation Dept. said. The announcement of the task force was made by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

"These reports signal a troubling trend," Huerta said. "Registration will help make sure that operators know the rules and remain accountable to the public for flying their unmanned aircraft responsibly."

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Marc Ferranti

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