Federal regulators announced Monday that recreational drone operators will be required to register their aircraft.
“There can be no accountability if the person breaking the rules can’t be identified,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said at a news conference.
A task force of more than two dozen people will be responsible for creating guidelines for the national registry by Nov. 20, with the goal of instilling the program before the end of the holiday season, when around 1 million drones are expected to be sold.
The increased number of recreational drones worries FAA officials and pilots, who have reported seeing twice the number of unmanned aircraft while flying this year than they did during all of 2014. A spate of high-profile incidents — including drones’ crashing into the stands at the U.S. Open tennis tournament and interfering with firefighting efforts in California — has increased pressure to regulate the use of unmanned aircraft.
Congress asked the FAA to create national drone regulations by October. After missing the deadline, the FAA told NBC News that the new rules should be finalized by “next spring.”
The national registry will not hinder efforts to create overarching regulations, Foxx said. The registry task force will be made up of representatives from the federal government and the aviation and unmanned aircraft industries.
It will decide which drone owners are exempt from the registry and whether people who already own drones will be forced to register them.
Drone operators will be hit with “penalties” if they fail to register their drones, Foxx said, although it’s not clear what those penalties will be.
“Registration will help make sure that operators know the rules and remain accountable to the public for flying their unmanned aircraft responsibly,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said. “When they don’t fly safely, they’ll know there will be consequences.”
Not only will a registry make it easier for law enforcement to hunt down irresponsible drone owners, but it will also help the FAA teach operators about existing regulations.
“People registering their drones will be exposed to the rules and the reasons for the rules,” Foxx said.
Recently, drones have become popular with everyone from hobbyists to filmmakers to farmers looking to watch over their crops. Many in the drone industry have been clamoring for clear guidelines.
Brandon Torres Declet, chief executive of drone start-up Measure, wrote in a statement to NBC News that it welcomed “the FAA’s efforts to increase accountability and discourage bad behavior among drone users.”
“Too many newcomers to the industry have ignored the rules and put aircraft in the national airspace at risk, while commercial drone service providers have made the effort to work with the FAA,” he said.