NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The federal government will require many drone aircraft to be registered, a move prompted by the growing number of reported close calls and incidents that pose safety risks, officials announced Monday.
“There can be no accountability if a person breaking the rules can’t be identified.” Anthony Foxx, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, said. “Registration will now allow us to identify them.”READ MORE: Lower East Side Residents Protest Construction Of New Luxury Buildings
The government says pilot sightings of drones have doubled since last year, including sightings near manned aircraft and major sporting events and interference with wildfire-fighting operations.
Federal Aviation Administration chief Michael Huerta said the reports “signal a troubling trend.” He said registration will increase pressure on drone operators to fly responsibly, otherwise “there will be consequences.”
To work out details, the FAA and the Transportation Department are setting up a 25- to-30-member task force including government and industry officials and hobbyists.
They’ll recommend which drones should be required to register and which should be exempted. The intent is to design a system that makes it easy for commercial operators to comply.
Toys and small drones are likely to be exempt. Drones that weigh only a pound or two or that can’t fly higher than a few hundred feet are considered less risky. Heavier ones and those that can fly thousands of feet pose more of a problem.
There is no official count of how many drones have been sold in the U.S., but industry officials say it is in the hundreds of thousands and will easily pass a million by the end of the year.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx directed the task force to deliver its report by Nov. 20. The Consumer Electronics Association has forecast that 700,000 drones will be sold this holiday season, and Foxx said it’s especially important that new drone users be taught the responsibilities that come with flying.
Critics argue the new rules may be difficult to enforce. One spokesman called it a ‘knee-jerk reaction’ with an ‘arbitrary timeline,’ CBS2’s Kris Van Cleave reported.
Drone enthusiast Bill Welch is skeptical the system will work.
“It’s going to take alot of time,” he said. “I just don’t know how they’re going to be able to do it. I hope they can do it.”
Registering drones that could pose safety risks “makes sense, but it should not become a prohibitive burden for recreational users who fly for fun and educational purposes and who have operated harmoniously within our communities for decades,” Dave Mathewson, executive director of the Academy for Model Aeronautics, said in a statement.READ MORE: Veterans Ride Horses Across Manhattan To Raise Suicide Awareness
The FAA now receives about 100 reports a month from pilots who say they’ve seen drones flying near planes and airports, including some near John F. Kennedy, Newark and LaGuardia airports. That’s compared with only a few sightings per month last year.
So far there have been no accidents, but agency officials have said they are concerned that even a drone weighing only a few pounds might cause serious damage if it is sucked into an engine or smashes into an airliner’s windshield.
In cases where drones have crashed where they were not supposed to be flying, at crowded sports stadiums for example, it has been difficult to find the operators.
A teacher was arrested last month after a drone authorities said he was operating crashed into an empty section of seats at the U.S. Open.
The FAA signed an agreement last month with CACI International Inc., an information technology company in Arlington, Virginia, to test technology that could locate the operators of small drones that are flying illegally near airports. The technology would let the government track radio signals used to operate drones within a 5-mile radius and identify the operator’s location.
The plan is to have the system in place by the holiday shopping season, when thousands of recreational drones are expected to be sold.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has separately introduced legislation that would require geofencing technology in drones made and sold in the U.S. It would keep the remote-controlled aircraft away from airports and major events.
“What has been the problem with drones? We all know; they fly over places they shouldn’t — close to airplanes, near airports, over parades,” Schumer said.
Twenty-nine states, including New York, have proposed banning drones all together, but Schumer said they’re not all bad.
“Farmers use them, businesses use them and now there are over a million hobbyists who enjoy drones,” Schumer said.
He calls geofencing the elegant solution to the drone problem.MORE NEWS: Community Leaders, Advocacy Groups Launch 'Boycott Black Murder' Campaign To End Gun Violence
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