U.S to Adopt Drone Registry

​The number of drone related incidents has prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to introduce new laws requiring owners to register their UAVs. The initiative is an effort to address the rising number of unauthorized drone sightings near airports and crowded public venues.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), encounters with drones by civil aircraft are likely to reach 1,100 by end of the year. The FAA has reported more than 650 unauthorized drone sightings up to August this year, compared with 238 for 2014. Among them, a near collision as a drone came within 200ft of a passenger jet carrying 159 people coming in to land at New York's JFK International Airport in July.

Earlier this month, the FAA issued a $1.9 million fine against Chicago company SkyPan that allegedly flew drones 65 times in restricted airspace without authorization.

An independent advisory committee to the Obama administration will set about creating a 'drone registry' which is intended to encourage hobbyists and other drone owners to follow safety rules.

The committee will be examining issues such as whether a person at the controls of a drone should be treated on par with a qualified private pilot and as such require extensive and costly training and the logging of at least 40 flight hours.

The FAA already requires trained airplane pilots to work for the seven film companies it granted permission to shoot aerial footage with drones in September.

“To compare these two [UAVs and passenger planes] is to compare apples to oranges,” said Michael Drobac, executive director of the Small UAV Coalition and a senior adviser at the Washington law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. His lobbying group is funded by companies including Amazon which wants to use drones to speed delivery of online purchases.

The growing field of commercial applications for UAV usage for video and data gathering includes home/office real estate, insurance claim, property assessment, agricultural land development, and sport team analysis.

The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) has spent more than $4 million over the past two years lobbying to make it easier for filmmakers to use small drones for film-making.

According to the WSJ, Drobac predicts that the FAA will give the industry what it wants: drone operators who will be certified as their own class of airperson, distinct from pilots who fly manned aircraft. The drone operators would be trained to communicate with air traffic controllers but avoid the dozens of flight hours most private pilots need before they’re able to receive FAA certification.

With drones costing as little as $80, even while professional models are in the $30k+ range, global sales are projected to be about 4.3 million units this year, representing a 167 percent increase on 2013.

Sales of drones in the U.S. comprise 35 percent of the worldwide drone market (according to Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield Byer), followed by Europe (30 percent) and China (15 percent). The drone market will represent more than $4.8 billion in hardware and software sales by 2021 (KPCB) with the U.S industry spending over $4bn on R&D each year between now and 2022 (Teal Group).

The rising number of 'drone-related incidents' is not unique to North America. In the UK too, reports to police have increased fourfold this year on 2014. Earlier this month an operator was fined £1,125 ($1740) for offences in breach of the Air Navigation Order at a London court. Apparently filming a promotional video of a running event in Hyde Park, the operator did so without consent from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Witnesses testified that the drone flew 10 metres from traffic and pedestrians.

The UK House of Lords EU Committee suggested back in March 2015 that all commercial operators should register their drones on an online database or app, and that in the longer term this should encompass leisure users as well.

"Public understanding of how to use drones safely may not keep pace with people’s appetite to fly them,” said Committee Chairman Baroness O’Cathain. “It would just take one disastrous accident to destroy public confidence and set the whole industry back. That is why a key recommendation is that drone flights must be traceable, effectively through an online database, which the general public could access via an app. We need to use technology creatively, not just to manage the skies, but to help police them as well.”

Other suggestions include adding a barcode to each drone which could be laser-scanned by police or other authorities on the ground.

“Safety is vital. If a drone engine dies it become a 5kg meteorite. If it fails with rotors running it becomes a 5kg meteorite with a chainsaw," says Kevin De La Noy, producer, (Saving Private Ryan, The Dark Knight Rises, Now You See Me 2.  “Cameras are tested rigorously before sale but anyone can put a camera into airspace without any checks on the rigs."

De La Noy would like to see consistency and transparency in UAV rules. “There were instances on Now Your See Me 2 where it would have been helpful to go to an authority for clarification on the conditions needed in order for us to shoot,” he says. The production was denied permission to shoot along the Thames, yet sports producer Sunset+Vine and other producers have shot along the Thames this year.

“Drones are becoming such an important creative tool for filmmakers who want to base productions out of the UK that there needs to be a policy shift to address exactly who is licensed, who is rejected and who will police the industry," says De La Noy. "We need a similar situation to the US where there is a registry and proper safety checks for licenced  UAV filmmakers."

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