Hobbyist drone operators to be required to register

By: News Staff, ABC News
Reporting By: Rebecca Turco

Hobbyist drone operators will soon need to register their devices with the federal government, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced Monday.

A task force made up of government officials and industry representatives expects to establish a framework for a national drone registry by mid-November, with some rules in place by mid-December, he said.

Chris Williams, owner of Cloud City Drones, Rhode Island’s only drone retailer, is hesitant about the scope of this national registry and who will have access to it. "I think it’s a great first step but I don’t know where it’s going to go, I don’t know what’s going to happen with that information, and when does it stop," he told ABC6 News.

Monday’s announcement comes on the heels of a spate of worrisome drone incidents. Pilot reports of drone sightings have quadrupled in the past year, according to FAA data, and the U.S. Forest Service has reported at least 18 illegal drone flights over wildfires.

In addition to educating operators about the rules governing drone use –- most notably, stay away from airports — the registry will help law enforcement trace drones back to operators flying them unsafely.

“Right now, we have to go through a lot of steps to be able to identify who in fact was using a drone. This effort to register will give us the information we need to trace back to the user,” Foxx said in response to a question from ABC’s David Kerley. “Finding the drone has not been as much of a problem as finding the person.”

Certain drones, like toys and unmanned aerial vehicles that don’t pose a safety threats, will likely be exempted, he said.

U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D – RI) is in favor of expanding on drone regulations. "We have a real issue of public safety and transportation policy and we have to deal with it," he said.

Williams hopes the task force’s plan incorporates technology when it comes to regulating air space, since many drones are equipped with GPS that actually prevent them from entering no-fly zones like airports. "I think technology is the answer," he said.

The creation of the registration task force is just one component of the FAA’s efforts to integrate drones into the national airspace. The FAA is also working on regulations governing commercial drone use, which they hope to finalize by June 2016.

(c) ABC News, WLNE-TV 2015