The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration today said it expects to soon require the registration of many small consumer drones, a move that it hopes could improve accountability in case of accidents.
The FAA said it is forming a task force of aviation–and drone–industry experts, federal government officials, and others to “advise” the agency on precisely which drones will require registration, and which should be exempt due to minor safety concerns.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx directed the task force to delivery their initial report by November 20.
The FAA’s move toward a registration program comes amid a sharp increase in purchases of consumer drones, such as those made by industry leaders like DJI and 3D Robotics, and in the wake of increasing incidents involving close calls between drones and commercial aircraft and firefighting aircraft.
While it’s not entirely clear that small consumer-grade drones pose a direct risk to such aircraft, there’s little doubt many are concerned about the issue, and want a system in place to ensure law enforcement and other officials can track down responsible parties in case of accidents or incidents.
The FAA said that the number of cases where airplane pilots were able to spot drones flying close to them had doubled between 2014 and 2015.
“Registering unmanned aircraft will help build a culture of accountability and responsibility, especially with new users who have no experience operating in the U.S. aviation system,” Foxx said in an FAA release. “It will help protect public safety in the air and on the ground.”
Added FAA administrator Michael Huerta in the release, the reports of incidents “signal a troubling trend. Registration will help make sure that operators know the rules and remain accountable to the public for flying their unmanned aircraft responsibly. When they don’t fly safely, they’ll know there will be consequences.”
It’s too early to know, of course, what the task force will suggest, and whether the recommendations will impact popular models such as DJI’s line of Phantom drones. It’s also not clear how drone manufacturers will react.
For DJI’s part, at least, it’s going to be wait and see.
“The feasibility and effectiveness of any drone registration system will depend very much on the details of how it will work, who will manage the process, and which types of drones it would apply to,” DJI spokesman Michael Perry tells Fast Company. “DJI, which has the leading market share of consumer and commercial drones, looks forward to working with the Department of Transportation and others in the industry on this initiative.”