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FAA Task Force Recommends Registration of Drones Over 9 Ounces

(Photo: Kevin Baird/Flickr Creative Commons)

(Photo: Kevin Baird/Flickr Creative Commons)

A Federal Aviation Administration task force has recommended requiring owners of all drones larger than 9 oz. (250 grams) to register with the government, a move that could affect hundreds of thousands of US drone hobbyists.

The FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Registration Task Force Aviation Rulemaking Committee released a final report of its recommendations on Saturday. The 25 task force members, which ranged from aviation and aerospace associations to tech companies including Google and GoPro to online and retail outlets such as Amazon, Walmart and Best Buy, set out to “develop and recommend minimum requirements for [drones] that would need to be registered, develop and recommend registration processes and develop and recommend methods for proving registration and marking.”

If approved by the FAA, drone owners would have to register their names and addresses and each drone would be assigned and marked with its own individual number. The proposed registry would make it easier for authorities to police bad behavior by drone operators, including overflights of restricted airspace, interference with commercial or military aviation and collisions with other drones.

Commercial drones, including those used by aerial photographers and utility inspections, are already subject to FAA registration.

The Academy of Model Aeronautics, a task force member representing 180,000 US drone hobbyists, said it wanted to file a dissenting opinion but was blocked from doing so.

“Unfortunately the task force recommendations may ultimately prove untenable by requiring the registration of smaller devices that are essentially toys and do not represent safety concerns,” executive director Dave Mathewson told USA Today.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said he would like to implement the task force’s recommendations by December 20. With the increasing popularity of drones coinciding with holiday shopping season, it is likely that people receiving drones next month will face the prospect of mandatory government registration.

Nancy Egan, general counsel for task force member 3D Robotics, said the new recommendations sought to strike a balance between safety and drone industry growth.

“I think the FAA is working very hard to keep up. Just like with any new technology it is very difficult for regulators to keep up,” Egan told Tech Insider. “As an industry and for the safety of our users, it is our responsibility to be ahead of regulations and acting sensibly and responsibly so that we don’t slow down the industry.”

However, there is considerable doubt that the FAA will be able to effectively enforce the new rules. Many of the affected drones as so small that they will be hard to track if their owners refuse to cooperate. The task force also did not include any enforcement guidelines in its report.

Marc Scribner, a transportation expert at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an advocacy group for limited government, told USA Today that the registry “will almost certainly result in litigation” because of a 2012 law prohibiting the FAA from regulating “model aircraft” for “hobby or recreational use.”

Geofencing, or using software to restrict where drones can fly, is a concern that wasn’t addressed by the task force.

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