Drone owners to be required by FAA to register devices

The U.S. Transportation Department plans to start requiring drone owners to register their devices with the government later this year in a bid to crack down on unsafe flights, according to three people familiar with the plans.

The department aims to convene a task force next week to figure out the specifics of the policy, including which drones will be included, how users will register the devices, and whether the policy will apply to devices that have already been sold, the people said. The task force is expected to deliver recommendations next month, the people said, with regulators aiming to implement a policy before Christmas--an exceptionally fast timeline for aviation regulations.

The Transportation Department said it plans to make a drone-related announcement on Monday but declined to comment further.

U.S. regulators have scrambled to regulate drones as they have proliferated in U.S. skies in recent years, sparking concerns from lawmakers, pilots and the general public that the devices pose a threat to manned aircraft. The Federal Aviation Administration said pilots spotted drones while flying more than 650 times this year through Aug. 9, up from 238 sightings in nearly all of 2014.

Drone advocates criticized the department's plans. "This is consistent with what I think they're doing, unfortunately, which is fear mongering," said Michael Drobac, head of the Small UAV Coalition, a lobbying group that represents Google Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and other drone makers. "I think [regulators] are trying to create the impression that drones are more dangerous than they are."

The Transportation Department wants to require recreational users to register their drones, which would dramatically increase the number of drones registered with the government, compared with the FAA's proposed rules. While the FAA has issued nearly 1,900 approvals to companies for commercial-drone flights in the U.S., industry officials estimate that there are hundreds of thousands of recreational drones in the country. One FAA official said last month that some officials expect more than 1 million drones to be sold around Christmas this year.

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