'Urgent' call for US drone register

Dave Lee
North America technology reporter

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Drone with aeroplane in backgroundImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The register would seek to improve accountability in cases of dangerous drone use

A national register of drones and their owners is urgently needed, the US transport secretary has said.

Anthony Foxx said a taskforce had been set up to examine creating a record of drones and their users.

The move comes after several reported incidents of drones hindering emergency services' efforts in fighting fires and other dangers.

The problem is seen as particularly pressing as the number of drones given as Christmas presents this year is expected to soar.

The task force will issue a report on how the database will be implemented late next month.

Crucially, it will look at what kind of drones should be exempt from the database, such as those bought as toys.

"We feel the level of urgency here is sufficient for us to move as quickly as we possibly can," Mr Foxx said.

He added in a statement: "Registering unmanned aircraft will help build a culture of accountability and responsibility, especially with new users who have no experience operating in the U.S. aviation system. It will help protect public safety in the air and on the ground."


The National Press Photographers' Association (NPPA), which has campaigned against the implementation of some drone laws, agreed with a database in principle, but questioned how effective it would be in preventing unsafe drone use.

"The fact is that for the most part, when there are sightings, they don't actually get to recover the drone itself," NPPA lawyer Mickey Osterreicher told BBC News.

"So what would registering the drone accomplish?"

He added that further rules would not prevent bad drone use, drawing comparisons to people who drive cars without a licence or insurance: "You really can't legislate against stupidity."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Drones were said to be hampering the efforts of Californian fire fighters

The plans have the support of several other groups in the aviation industry, including the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), which will help the task force to come up with recommendations.

The group said: "Because safe operations are essential for all users of the national airspace, AUVSI is also looking forward to continuing its work with the FAA and other supporters of the 'Know Before You Fly' campaign to educate newcomers to UAS technology about where they should and shouldn't fly."

Drone safety has been of prime concern to US authorities as emergency services repeatedly cite examples of drones hampering their work.

California governor Jerry Brown recently shot down a proposed law to make it easier for emergency services to disable drones flying near disaster areas by using electronic jamming.

That bill gained support after fire fighters had to down helicopters that were trying to extinguish devestating wildfires in northern California.

The bill was opposed by several groups representing drone users' interests, including the NPPA.

In a letter to the governor, the NPPA argued that it would make it too difficult for media to legally cover stories by using drones.

After dismissing the proposed law, Mr Brown said he agreed with those who felt it could open a legal minefield for hobbyist drone owners acting within existing laws.