Drone close calls spur US government to require registration

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Government Moves to Require Registration of Drones

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. government will require many drone aircraft 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.

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"These reports signal a troubling trend," Federal Aviation Administration chief Michel Huerta said at a news conference to announce the step. 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."

To work out details, the FAA and the Transportation Department are setting up a 25- to 30-member task force including government and industry officials and hobbyists. They'll recommend which drones should be required to register and which should be exempted, and design a system that would be easy for commercial operators to comply with, the department said.

Toys and small drones that don't present a safety threat are likely to be exempt. Drones that weigh only a pound or two or that can't fly higher than a few hundred feet are considered less risky. Heavier ones and those that can fly thousands of feet pose more of a problem.

Related: See some usage of drones in sports:

10 PHOTOS
Drones in Sports
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Drone close calls spur US government to require registration
In this photo taken on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015, police officers investigate the southwest corner of Louis Armstrong Stadium after a drone flew over the court, buzzing the players during a match between Flavia Pennetta, of Italy, and Monica Niculescu, of Romania, during the second round of the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York. The drone crash-landed in the seats and can be seen to the right of the police officer on his phone. Whether they're crashing into the bleachers or simply hovering above stadiums to get a cool picture of the action down below, drones have become semi-regular guests at the ballparks these days. That has put the federal government, local police forces and security think tanks on alert, trying to catch up to the technology and figure out how to prevent the hard-to-stop devices from doing major damage. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Britain's Mohamed Farah operates a drone during a break in a training session for the upcoming World Athletic Championships at the Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
BEIJING, CHINA - AUGUST 21: Mo Farah of Great Britain looks on as he flies a drone during a practice session ahead of the 15th IAAF World Athletics Championships Beijing 2015 at the Beijing National Stadium on August 21, 2015 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
A drone flies an Albanian flag at the national league match in Vlora, 140 kilometers (85 miles) southwest of capital Tirana, between local Flamurtari FC vs. KF Skenderbeu, Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. The game ended 1-1. Earlier this week a drone that flew an Albanian nationalist banner over a soccer stadium in Belgrade, Serbia ignited a brawl when Albanian players who tried to protect it were attacked by Serb counterparts, fans and security staff on the pitch, forcing the referee to abandon the match. (AP Photo/str)
A drone with an Albanian flag flies over Partizan stadium during the Euro 2016 Group I qualifying match between Serbia and Albania in Belgrade, Serbia, Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
FILE - This is a Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014 file photo of a drone with an Albanian flag banner flies over Partizan stadium during the Euro 2016 Group I qualifying match between Serbia and Albania in Belgrade, Serbia. The match was abandoned due to crowd trouble. Albania was awarded a victory over Serbia by the top sports court on Friday July 10, 2015 in a reversal of a UEFA sanction over a soccer game that was abandoned when a drone with a political banner flew into the stadium. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic, File)
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - MAY 14: A drone remote-controlled carrying a cloth simulating a ghost with the letter B on it is seen during a second leg match between Boca Juniors and River Plate as part of round of sixteen of Copa Bridgestone Libertadores 2015 at Alberto J. Armando Stadium on May 14, 2015 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Amilcar Orfali/LatinContent/Getty Images)
Players of ASM Clermont Auvergne rugby club take part in a training session on February 19, 2015 at the Marcel Michelin stadium in Clermont-Ferrand, central France, as a drone films them for training analysis. AFP PHOTO / THIERRY ZOCCOLAN (Photo credit should read THIERRY ZOCCOLAN/AFP/Getty Images)
DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 25: A camera-equipped flying drone is seen prior to a game between the Virginia Tech Hokies and the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 25, 2014 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke defeated Virginia Tech 66-48. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 7: A drone flies above the scoreboard at Wrigley Field during the seventh inning of the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game on September 7, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jeffrey Phelps/Getty Images)
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There is no official count of how many drones have been sold in the U.S., but industry officials say it is in the hundreds of thousands and will easily pass a million by the end of the year.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx directed the task force to deliver its report by Nov. 20. The Consumer Electronics Association has forecast that 700,000 drones will be sold this holiday season, and Foxx said it's especially important that new drone users be taught the responsibilities that come with flying.

Registering drones that could pose safety risks "makes sense, but it should not become a prohibitive burden for recreational users who fly for fun and educational purposes and who have operated harmoniously within our communities for decades," Dave Mathewson, executive director of the Academy for Model Aeronautics, said in a statement.

The FAA now receives about 100 reports a month from pilots who say they've seen drones flying near planes and airports, compared with only a few sightings per month last year. So far there have been no accidents, but agency officials have said they are concerned that even a drone weighing only a few pounds (kilograms) might cause serious damage if it is sucked into an engine or smashes into an airliner's windshield.

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.

The FAA signed an agreement last month with CACI International Inc., an information technology company in Arlington, Virginia, to test technology that could locate the operators of small drones that are flying illegally near airports. The technology would let the government track radio signals used to operate drones within a 5-mile (8 kilometer) radius and identify the operator's location.

Look back at a recent drone issue that put the White House on lockdown:

10 PHOTOS
White House lockdown, man arrested, drone
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Drone close calls spur US government to require registration
This handout photo provided by the US Secret Service appears to be a Parrot BeBop drone, seen in Lafayette Park across from the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 14, 2015. The U.S. Secret Service apprehended a man who was flying the small drone Thursday afternoon in a park outside the White House. (US Secret Service via AP)
An investigator from the U.S. Park Police carries bags of evidence in Lafayette Park near the White House May 14, 2015 in Washington, DC. A man was arrested after flying a remote control aerial vehicle over the fence on the north side of the White House. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Investigators from the U.S. Park Police, the U.S. Secret Service, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and other law enforcement agencies collect evidence in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House May 14, 2015 in Washington, DC. A man was arrested after flying a remote control aerial vehicle over the fence on the north side of the White House. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
An investigator from the U.S. Park Police carries bags of evidence in Lafayette Park near the White House May 14, 2015 in Washington, DC. A man was arrested after flying a remote control aerial vehicle over the fence on the north side of the White House. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Members of U.S. Secret Service Uniform Division keep people out of Lafayette Park as investigators collect evidence across the street from the White House May 14, 2015 in Washington, DC. A man was arrested after flying a remote control aerial vehicle over the fence on the north side of the White House. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Members of U.S. Secret Service keep the public away from the White House May 14, 2015 in Washington, DC. The White House went on temporary lock down after a man was arrested after flying a remote control aerial vehicle over the fence on the north side of the White House. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Investigators from the U.S. Park Police, the U.S. Secret Service, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and other law enforcement agencies collect evidence in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House May 14, 2015 in Washington, DC. A man was arrested after flying a remote control aerial vehicle over the fence on the north side of the White House. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Uniformed Secret Service Police officers patrol on bikes near the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 14, 2015, during a lockdown. A federal law enforcement official says a man has been arrested after trying to launch a drone outside the White House fence. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Uniformed Secret Service Police officers stand watch at Lafayette Park near the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 14, 2015, during a lockdown. A federal law enforcement official says a man has been arrested after trying to launch a drone outside the White House fence. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
A uniformed Secret Service Police officer holds visitors and pedestrians beyond the police line near the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 14, 2015, during a lockdown. A federal law enforcement official says a man has been arrested after trying to launch a drone outside the White House fence. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
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