Over the last several months, drones have caused all kinds of mischief, from fights between neighbors to arrests. Local governments have even been passing new laws to clamp down on dangerous drone use.
With those incidents in mind, officials at the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Association announced today that they will soon require drone owners and operators to register their unmanned aerial systems (UAS) with the federal government in an effort to promote safer flying. While commercial drone operators are currently required to register, the new rules would apply to everyday hobbyists as well.
The announcement comes after a summer that saw a campaign from the FAA specifically urging hobbyist drone operators to stay away from wildfires as to not impede firefighting operations. And while pilots reported 238 sightings of drones in 2014, according to the FAA, there had been 650 sightings by early August of this year.
Earlier this month, FAA Deputy Administrator Michael G. Whitaker testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, remarking that the agency's "preference is for people to voluntarily comply with regulations, but we won’t hesitate to take strong enforcement actions against anyone who flies an unmanned aircraft in an unsafe or illegal manner." He also noted that the FAA had "investigated several hundred incidents of UAS operating outside of existing regulations."
To that end, the DOT and FAA are appointing a task force of government officials, drone industry representatives and hobbyists to suggest which drones should be required to register. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is giving the task force until Nov. 20 to deliver their report so that the system can be in place before the holiday season, as drones are expected to be hot-ticket gift item this year.
As to how many drones are actually out there at the moment, a staggering 1 million is the number that has come up a lot in rough estimates, according to the Washington Post. Not only that, but the Consumer Electronics Association predicted over the summer that the drone industry will bring in about $105 million in sales this year – up more than 50 percent from revenue in 2014 – and sell about 700,000 individual units by the end of 2015, up 63 percent from last year.