The U.S. government will soon require many drone aircraft to be registered, a move prompted by the growing number of reported close calls as planes fly into and out of some of the nation's biggest airports, federal officials announced Monday.
Officials say the registration will give drone operators accountability so that when a drone enters prohibited airspace or breaks a law, the operator can be traced through the registration.
Pilot sightings of drones have doubled since last year, including sightings near manned aircraft and major sporting events, and interference with wildfire-fighting operations, the government said.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said at a news conference to announce the step. "When you are entering the national airspace it’s a very serious matter. This isn’t riding your ATV [all-terrain vehicle] on your own property. It’s actually going into the space where other users are also occupying that space, and it’s a matter of responsibility that we will take seriously and there are penalties for those who refuse to do so.”
US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx introduces task force member Brian Wynne, President & CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, at the U.S. Transportation Department in Washington, D.C., Oct. 19, 2015. (VOA / C. Presutti)
100 close calls a month
The FAA now receives about 100 reports a month from pilots who say they've seen drones flying near planes and airports, compared with only a few sightings per month last year.
Federal Aviation Administrator Michael Huerta explains that FAA expects drone operators to register their aircraft so that his department and local law enforcement can trace rogue drones back to operators, at the U.S. Transportation Department in Washington.
"These reports signal a troubling trend," Federal Aviation Administration chief Michel Huerta said at a news conference to announce the step. Registration will increase pressure on drone operators to fly responsibly, he said.
In July, there was a dangerously close encounter between a drone and a passenger jet with 159 people aboard setting up to land at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, NBC News reported.
To work out details of the registration, the FAA and the Transportation Department are setting up a 25- to 30-member task force including government and industry officials and hobbyists.
Captain Tim Canoll of the Air Line Pilots Association, which will represent its 52,000 pilot members on the task force, told VOA the registration is just a beginning of what is needed.
WATCH: Captain Tim Canoll of the Air Line Pilots Assn. address situation
Not toy aircraft
Richard Hanson from the Academy of Model Aeronautics warned against regulating toy aircraft that pose little risk and pushed to set a more appropriate threshold for registration.
Drones that weigh less than a kilogram or that can't fly higher than a few dozen meters are considered less risky. Heavier ones and those that can fly much higher pose more of a problem.
The task force will recommend by November 20 which drones should be required to register and design a streamlined system for registration. The FAA is scrambling to get registration rules in place before Christmas.
There is no official count of how many drones exist in the U.S., but industry officials at the news conference said an additional million drones will be sold during the holiday season.
Foxx said the registration would be retroactive to include drones already purchased.
There is no official count of how many drones have been sold in the United States, but industry officials say it is in the hundreds of thousands and will easily pass a million by the end of the year.
The Consumer Electronics Association has forecast that 700,000 drones will be sold this holiday season.
VOA's Carolyn Presutti contributed to this story.