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US Drone Registration Rules Likely by Christmas

FILE - Students at John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, North Dakota, remotely pilot a drone during a demonstration, in a June 24, 2014, photo.

A mandatory consumer drone registration system could be in place in the United States by Christmas after an industry task force delivered its proposals for the new rules to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The group, which included representatives from retailers, drone manufacturers, hobbyists, law enforcement and the aviation industry, was asked to come up with recommendations in time for the holiday season, when an estimated 700,000 new unmanned aircraft could be sold.

“This community is serious about being accountable and taking pro-active steps to help the FAA,” GoogleX’s Dave Vos said in a conference call with reporters Monday.

Vos, who co-chaired the 25-member task force, said the recommendations were left general enough so as not to constrain growth in the industry by limiting technology, “since we don’t know what the future will bring.”

Owners of unmanned aircraft weighing 0.25kg-25kg (0.55lb-55lb) would be required to register their vehicle(s) online and mark the registration number (or a registered serial number) on all applicable drones.

Only one registration number would be issued per owner and no fee would be required.

“The FAA is reviewing the task force report and over 4,000 comments submitted by the public [before] drafting the proposed rules,” said Earl Lawrence, director of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office.

Presently, there is no easy way for anyone to identify who a drone belongs to or who is operating it, besides physically locating the person.

For that reason, the task force recommended that the drone owner’s name and physical street address be the only information required for registration.

“We want a simpler system for drones as opposed to [the aviation registration system already in place] for multi-million dollar assets,” Lawrence said.

The new rules will likely go into effect sometime in December.

"Registration will instill a sense of accountability and responsibility among UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) pilots, and also will prompt them to become educated about safe flying in the National Airspace System,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a blog post last week.

“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," he said.

The need to register unmanned aircraft was spurred by the growing number of reported close calls as planes fly into and out of some of the nation's biggest airports.

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.

Drones have also interfered with California wildfire operations and buzzed near major sporting events.

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    Mark Snowiss

    Mark Snowiss is a Washington D.C.-based multimedia reporter.  He has written and edited for various media outlets including Pacifica and NPR affiliates in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @msnowiss and on Google Plus