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Proposed FAA drone guidelines may need fine-tuning

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Federal Aviation Administration recommendations for accountability in the operation of drones are being met with criticism from members of the aviation industry.

“I think accountability in flying drones is a really huge subject that comes down to one word — 'technology' — and it can mitigate some of the risk in flying drones, both commercially and flying for recreation,” said Chris Proudlove, Mountain Lakes, New Jersey-based senior vice president and manager of the Northeast regional office and unmanned aircraft systems risks at aviation insurer Global Aerospace Inc.

“If a drone couldn't be sold unless it had geo-sensing fencing built into it that prevented it from flying in and around airports or whatever limitations were installed (to keep from relying) on individuals to do the right thing. But nothing is coming out of the FAA that shows they intend to use that as part of the regulating process,” he said.

What the recommendations for commercial and personal drone use released Monday include are:

• Requiring the owner of such an unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds to register it online with the FAA, similar to any aircraft flown in the U.S. The owner's name and address would be required, with email address and phone number optional.

• Requiring the owner to either provide the serial number of the drone to the FAA or affix the FAA-issued registration number to the aircraft in a prominent location. However, said Mr. Proudlove, “I don't think serializing is going to stop people from doing things they shouldn't be.”

• Requiring people registering a drone to be at least 13 years old, but they would not have to be U.S. citizens.

The guidelines must be approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Proponents of the efforts, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which represents general aviation interests and was part of a UAS industry task force that helped develop the rules, said in news reports that the recommendations are a good start. But it acknowledged that adjustments could be needed to ensure accountability and safety.

At this time, the FAA does not require geo-fencing, a safety feature built into the drone to keep it from flying into areas that are not allowed. The FAA also does not require flight training for operating a drone for personal use.