Sci-Tech

US Department of Transportation will require drone registration

A task force will develop a registration process for unmanned aircraft systems for consumer and commercial pilots for the holiday shopping season.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

Getting a drone in the US for the holidays? Plan on registering it with the Department of Transportation and the FAA.

US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced today the creation of a task force that will develop a process for registering drones, also known as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

"The registration will reinforce the need for unmanned aircraft users, including consumers and hobbyists, to operate their drones safely," Foxx said. "Registration gives operators the opportunity to learn the airspace rules before they fly and enjoy their devices safely."

Small quadcopters like Parrot's Minidrone might need to be registered with the US DOT to fly outside. Joshua Goldman/CNET

Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) claims responsibility for the safety of US airspace from the ground up. For RC hobbyists (read: noncommercial pilots), the FAA safety guidelines limit recreational use of model aircraft to below 400 feet, within sight of the operator and more than 5 miles away from airports and air traffic without prior FAA notification. These guidelines fall in line with the National Model Aircraft Safety Code of the Academy of Model Aeronautics.

The FAA is also developing a mobile app for its No Drone Zone outreach program that will help pilots know if they're location is safe for UAS flight or if they're in a no-fly zone. This program is in addition to the FAA's Know Before You Fly campaign, which outlines the current guidelines for drone flights.

"There's still a lot of work to do, this is not the whole solution, this is just a part of it and the task force will be charged with answering a number of critical questions," Foxx said. "But clarifying that federal law requires the registration of all aircraft including unmanned aircraft is essential to insuring accountability and is an important part of our ongoing vigilance on this issue."

The task force consists of 25 to 30 representatives from the UAS and manned aviation industries, the federal government, and other stakeholders. It will determine which aircraft should be exempt from registration due to a low safety risk, including toys and other small UAS.

The DOT does intend to push this along quickly. It expects to receive the recommendations of the task force by mid-November and have the registration rules in place by mid-December. For current drone owners, Foxx said the DOT would expect retroactive registration, potentially with a grace period, and there will be penalties for failing to register. New and current pilots will not need a license, however.