The federal government will require many drones to be registered, a move prompted by the growing number of reported close calls and incidents that pose safety risks, officials announced Monday. Pilot sightings of drones have doubled since last year, including sightings near manned aircraft and major sporting events, and interference with wildfire-fighting operations, the government said. "These reports signal a troubling trend," Federal Aviation Administration chief Michel Huerta said. Registration will increase pressure on drone operators to fly responsibly, he said, adding, "when they don't fly safely, they'll know there will be consequences." In cases where drones have crashed where they were not supposed to be flying—at crowded sports stadiums, for example—it has been difficult to find the operators. Some 700,000 drones are forecast to be sold this holiday season.
The FAA and the Transportation Department are setting up a 25- to 30-member task force to recommend which drones should be required to register, and design a system easy for commercial operators to comply with. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx directed the task force to deliver its report by Nov. 20. Toys and small drones that don't present a safety threat are likely to be exempt, while heavier ones and those that can fly thousands of feet pose more of a problem. Registering drones "makes sense, but it should not become a prohibitive burden for recreational users who fly for fun and educational purposes," says the director of the Academy for Model Aeronautics. So far there have been no accidents, but agency officials are concerned that even a small drone might cause serious damage if it is sucked into an engine or smashes an airliner's windshield. (Read more drones stories.)