In response to the increasing number of incidents involving unmanned aerial vehicles, aka drones, in the United States, the authorities are now planning to set up a registry for UAVs so that their owners can be traced more easily.

Americans will soon have to register their drones

In late October, a UAV crashed on to a power line in Hollywood, cutting off the electricity from several hundred homes. Three weeks earlier another drone hit the ground close to the White House, despite an official ban on such aerial vehicles in Washington DC. In July, a man shot down a drone which was flying over his property in Kentucky and this ‘drone slayer’ has just been cleared of the criminal damage charges laid against him. Incidents involving drones are on the rise in the United States, leading people to come up with some pretty radical solutions for protecting yourself against them, including an anti-drone ‘death ray’ which sounds like something straight out of a science fiction film. The US authorities have therefore decided to take matters in hand in order to prevent the situation degenerating further: the US Department of Transportation (DoT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are now drawing up regulations that will require  drone owners to register their UAVs with the authorities before they start criss-crossing the airspace.

Setting up a drone owners registry

Technology trends tracker Wired magazine reported on a recent press conference at which US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta revealed that ‟a government and industry task force will be working out the details of a proposed drone registration system, including the type of aircraft that will need to be registered, what the penalties will be for flying a drone without registration, and other rules.” The debate is likely to be tricky: for example should all drone operators be required to register their devices, even an ordinary citizen who has just bought a $50 basic UAV for his son to play with in the garden?

Identifying those responsible for infringements

Up to now, flying craft – manned or unmanned – have always been free to fly as they wished up to 600 feet (around 183 metres) above ground level anywhere except in designated restricted areas, as this area of the skies is generally rather empty and they were unlikely to hit anything. However, at the root of this proposed new legislation is the need to be able to track down the owner more easily whenever a drone incident occurs. Secretary Foxx pointed out that the main difficulty in forcing people to respect no-fly zones was identifying who is formally in charge of the offending UAV, underlining: “Registration will help us enforce the rules against those who operate unsafely, by allowing the FAA to identify the operators of unmanned aircraft.” 

By Guillaume Renouard