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FAA Turns to Amazon, Google to Help Register Drones as Christmas Approaches

The Federal Aviation Administration hopes to begin registering hobby drones as retailers ramp up for mounting sales of the aircraft during the holiday season.

by / November 2, 2015

Santa is set to deliver reinforcements to a growing fleet of hobby drones in the U.S. this December, prompting the federal government to turn to private industry leaders from Walmart, Google and other companies to help craft regulations before Christmas.

The Federal Aviation Administration, citing optimistic projections of Christmas drone sales from retailers, has called on its task force to give recommendations by Nov. 20 on how to set up requirements for drone registration. The task force will begin meeting this week.

The Consumer Electronics Association, which has a representative on the FAA task force, estimates 2015 drone sales to top 700,000 units — a 63 percent increase from 2014.

The task force’s members include:

  • Nancy Egan of 3D Robotics
  • Sean Cassidy of Amazon Prime Air and Ben Gielow of Amazon Retail
  • Justin Towles of the American Association of Airport Executives
  • Brian Wynne of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International
  • Parker Brugge of Best Buy
  • Dave Vos of GoogleX
  • Tony Bates of GoPro
  • Thomas Head of Walmart

The FAA wrote in its rulemaking proposal that drones have the potential to deliver huge benefits to industry. On top of Christmas sales, several companies — including those with a voice on the task force — are working on using the technology to transform delivery methods. According to Reuters, Walmart and Amazon both want to use drones to deliver packages to people’s homes. Walmart is also considering using the flyers to take stock of trailers and warehouses.

But the administration, along with city officials and other regulators, have cited a lot of risks attached to a booming drone market. The FAA has reported that airline pilots are seeing an increasing number of drones, including some within a half-mile of runways. Planes used to fight fires have been grounded this year due to intrusive hobby drones.

Some have even posited that drones could be armed and used in terrorist attacks.

Though the FAA already has the authority through federal codes to require the registration of all aircraft, including drones, it has traditionally held back on enforcing registration for hobby aircraft, according to its rule proposal. Also, its current registration system is based on paper — not very conducive to the need to register the army of drones retailers hope to sell this year.

So it’s asking the task force to help it build an electronic process for registering the craft. That will mean identifying who’s responsible for registration, identifying which drones might be exempted from registration and what information about individual units the FAA should keep records of.

“[Unmanned aircraft systems] hold enormous promise for our economy and for the aviation industry,” the rule proposal reads. “But for the industry to develop to its full potential, we have to ensure that it develops safely.”

The FAA is also taking public comment on the proposals until Friday here.

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