Due to a growing number of close calls and other safety risks related to drones, federal officials announced this week many of the remote aircraft will soon require to be registered.
The move could help slow down a dangerous trend of drones flying near airports and over fires.
Federal Aviation Administration chief Michael Huerta, in a news conference Monday covered by the Associated Press, said the number of pilots seeing drones has doubled since 2014.
Huerta said that included many drones interfering with firefighting efforts, particularly on wildfires.
“These reports signal a troubling trend,” Huerta said, adding of drone operators, “when they don’t fly safely, they’ll know there will be consequences.”
Madera County has already had problems with drones putting firefighters and homeowners at risk.
On Sept. 13, two teenagers allegedly lit spray from aerosol cans and sparked the 13-acre Sundance Fire in Oakhurst near Deadwood Mountain, which forced people to evacuate as flames crept closer to their homes.
As firefighters worked to stop the blaze, a drone flew overhead which forced Cal Fire to ground their aircraft in route to the growing inferno.
“For us, the hot topic was the drone that flew over the fire at the exact time two spot fires started,” Cal Fire spokeswoman Karen Guillemin-Kanawyer said at the time. “We had to ground our aircraft because of this drone, which flew off towards Oakhurst. This impacted our ability to get those spot fires, but the ground crew did an excellent job to stop the spot fires from growing.”
Madera County District Attorney David Linn said if that drone’s pilot was found, they will be subject to arrest for flying their aircraft over the fire. The operator has yet to be located.
Nancy Koerperich, Chief of Cal Fire’s Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit, said drones have also been seen during the 5702-acre Willow Fire near Bass Lake in August, as well as the 500-acre Sky Fire and 920-acre Corinne Fire in June.
The FAA is testing technology to locate operators of small drones through tracking radio signals.
A task force comprised of 25 to 30 government, industry, and hobbyist officials is being created by the FAA and Transportation Department to recommend which drones will require registration.
The FAA receives around 100 reports a month from pilots that claim they see drones flying near planes and airports. Officials said that creates serious risks, as even a small drone can cause serious damage to a plane’s engine or other equipment.