Obama's coming for your Christmas drones

NAOMI TAJITSU/REUTERS

Amid growing fears about safety and security risks from unauthorized drone flights, federal regulators say they plan to require pretty much all recreational drones in the U.S. to be registered.

The announcement came Monday. The plan seems to be to rush these new restrictions into place before a holiday shopping season in which a record-setting number of hobbyist drones are expected to be sold. How many drones? The FAA predicts about a million hobbyist UAVs will be sold in the 2015 holiday shopping season.

The government's a-comin' for your Christmas drones, people.

“The signal we’re sending today is that when you enter the national airspace, it's a very serious matter,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Foxx said the restrictions apply to new drone buyers. If you already own a drone, under the new requirements you'll have to register after a to-be-determined grace period.

The FAA is also working with other agencies to develop systems that can identify and track drones or keep them away from vulnerable sites.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s announcement follows calls for similar action by Congress, and sounds a lot like what North America’s largest pilots union proposed earlier this month. The largest group representing model airplane hobbyists in the U.S. had also expressed support for some of the registration concepts rolled into the proposed legislation.

New rules for commercial drone use in the U.S. are expected from the FAA next year.

Read the entire announcement here.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta today announced the creation of a task force to develop recommendations for a registration process for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS).

The task force will be composed of 25 to 30 diverse representatives from the UAS and manned aviation industries, the federal government, and other stakeholders. The group will advise the Department on which aircraft should be exempt from registration due to a low safety risk, including toys and certain other small UAS. The task force also will explore options for a streamlined system that would make registration less burdensome for commercial UAS operators.

The task force may make additional safety recommendations as it deems appropriate. Secretary Foxx directed the group to deliver its report by Nov. 20.

“Registering unmanned aircraft will help build a culture of accountability and responsibility, especially with new users who have no experience operating in the U.S. aviation system,” Foxx said. “It will help protect public safety in the air and on the ground.”

Every day, the FAA receives reports of potentially unsafe UAS operations. Pilot sightings of UAS doubled between 2014 and 2015. The reports ranged from incidents at major sporting events and flights near manned aircraft, to interference with wildfire operations.

“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. When they don’t fly safely, they’ll know there will be consequences.”

While the task force does its work, the FAA will continue its aggressive education and outreach efforts, including the “Know Before You Fly” campaign and “No Drone Zone” initiatives with the nation’s busiest airports. The agency also will continue to take strong enforcement action against egregious violators. At the same time, it will continue working with stakeholders to improve safety to ensure further integration and innovation in this promising segment of aviation.

Secretary Foxx was joined by representatives from the following stakeholder groups:

• The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International

• Academy of Model Aircraft

• Air Line Pilots Association

• American Association of Airport Executives

• Helicopter Association International

• PrecisionHawk

• AirMap/ Small UAV Coalition

• Consumer Electronics Association

More coverage: Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times.

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