DJI's Phantom 3 drone.
Phot courtesy of DJI
By Jonathan Vanian
November 23, 2015

Drone owners would be able to register their unmanned aircraft for free under proposed rules created by a government task force.

The proposed regulations, made public Monday, are part of the U.S. Transportation Department’s push to create a drone registration system following a series of close calls with commercial aircraft and high-profile accidents like a drone that crashed into the stands at the U.S. Open tennis tournament. The goal is to make it easier for the government to identify drone owners following any future problems.

If adopted, the rules would be a major change for drone hobbyists, who, until now, have been able to fly their unmanned aircraft with limited oversight. The task force recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration come up with penalties for anyone who fails to register.

Under the proposed rules, drone owners would pay no fee to register online or through sites and apps made available through third parties like those of drone makers. The government would issue applicants a registration number that would cover all the drones they own, making it unnecessary to register any additional drones they may buy in the future.

People under 13 years old would get an exemption from registering directly. Instead, they would have to do so through a parents or guardian.

Another exemption is for people who own small drones that weigh less than 250 grams—or half a pound. The task force said that aircraft weighing less than half a pound would pose the least amount of risk to civilians if an accident were to occur.

In terms of information, owners would be required to submit their names and street addresses. Email addresses, telephone numbers, and aircraft serial numbers would be optional.

Hobbyists must add their registration number somewhere on their drones, although it doesn’t have to be easily visible. They can avoid doing so if they submitted their drone’s serial number, which are typically printed on the aircraft or inside it.

In October, the DOT and FAA created the task force to get input from drone company representatives and industry advocacy groups. Members included Amazon (AMZN), Google (GOOG), Walmart (WMT), and Best Buy (BBY).

All of these companies have been exploring the use of drones for deliveries, and could be impacted by any regulations. Some of them also sell drones and risk losing customers if the registration system is too onerous.

The government agencies will review the task force’s proposals along with public comments. Government representatives have said they would like a registration system to be operational sometime in December, just in time for the holiday season, but there is no firm deadline.

Brian Wynne, CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International trade group and a task force member, said in a statement that he was pleased with the task force’s recommendations. However, he still wants the FAA to finalize separate rules dictating how and where drone owners and businesses can operate their aircraft. like whether they can fly out of the line of sight of the operator.

Companies must currently seek FAA permission to fly drones for commercial purposes.

“While the FAA plans to move quickly to consider the task force’s recommendations and create a registration system, the FAA should continue its work to integrate UAS into the national airspace and finalize the small UAS rule,” Wynne said in a statement.

Dave Mathewson, executive director of the Academy of Model Aeronautics, another drone task force member, said in a statement that his trade organization disagrees with some of the proposed rules. He took issue with the half-pound threshold for drone registration, arguing that weight doesn’t necessarily determine safety and that some larger drones should also be exempt.

“The task force only considered weight,” said Mathewson in a statement. “We believe weight should be only one of several factors considered when determining where the threshold should be for UAS registration.”

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