Drones are set to be one of the hottest gifts this upcoming holiday season.
And, as the use of amateur and professional-type drones continue to soar in popularity, problems likely will arise.
In fact, close calls between drones and commercial aircraft have already spurred action from the Federal Aviation Administration ahead of the holiday gift-giving season.
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're concerned that a drone weighing only a few pounds might cause serious damage if it is sucked into an engine or smashes into an airliner's windshield.
Toys and small drones that don't present a safety threat are likely to be exempt from the requirement. Drones that weigh only a pound or two or that can't fly higher than a few hundred feet are considered less risky, but heavier ones and those that can fly thousands of feet pose more of a problem.
To work out details, the FAA and the Transportation Department are setting up a task force including government and industry officials, pilots and hobbyists. They'll recommend which drones should be required to register.
It's hard to identify drones seen operating illegally near airports and planes or over crowds, and registration by itself won't change that. But it would allow the FAA to identify drones when they can be recovered after landing or crashing, a common occurrence.
The Consumer Electronics Association predicts that 700,000 drones will be sold this holiday season, with officials adding that it's especially important that new drone users be taught the responsibilities that come with flying.
Jim Williams, a principal at the law firm Dentons who formerly headed the FAA's drone office, said he believes the agency can get around having to go through the cumbersome rulemaking process by formally determining small drones are a new type of aircraft and therefore fall under existing FAA regulations that say all aircraft must be registered.
"I don't think there is any way they could realistically get through the rulemaking process by Christmas," Williams said.
The Air Line Pilots Association and members of Congress have been calling for drone registration.
"We have rules of the road,” said Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, “But in this brave new world, now we need rules of the sky."