The Obama administration said on Monday that it would require drone owners to register their unmanned aircraft as part of an effort to curtail rogue drone flights that pose a danger to commercial aircraft and crowded public venues.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the creation of a task force of private sector and government representatives to craft recommendations for establishing the first ever federal drone registry.
The recommendations are due by Nov. 20, and administration officials hope to have the registry in place before Christmas, when they say that more than 1 million new drones could be given as gifts to new untrained operators. The registration requirements would also apply to drones already in use.
The initiative represents the administration’s effort to address the rising number of unauthorized drone sightings near airports and crowded public venues. The Federal Aviation Administration has reported more than 650 unauthorized drone sightings so far this year, as of Aug. 9, compared with 238 for all of 2014. If sightings continue at that rate, the number would near 1,100 by the year end.
In the San Diego area, 19 drone encounters with aircraft were reported, most occurring near the San Diego, Carlsbad and Ramona airports as commercial, military and private aircraft were taking off or landing.
Officials said a registry would help authorities identify the operators of rogue drones, a task that authorities have struggled to undertake so far. They also said the need to register drones would help educate consumers about restrictions near airports and public venues including sports events.
“The signal we’re sending today is that when you enter the national air space, it’s a very serious matter,” Foxx said. As part of a parallel effort, the FAA is also working with other agencies to develop systems that can identify and track drones or keep them away from vulnerable sites.
Foxx said the registration effort would not delay the FAA’s goal of publishing rules for commercial drone use by next June.
But critics said the announcement raised more questions than it answered about how owners could be compelled to comply and what size, weight and power of aircraft would be included.
“People keep throwing around the million drones to be sold this Christmas number. That is a lot of people to educate and then convince they need to take the time and effort to register,” said a drone industry lobbyist, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.