Court Strikes Down Drone Registration Rule

(Updated 3:15 p.m.ET to include FAA statement.) WASHINGTON—A federal court has struck down the Federal Aviation Administration’s drone registration rule. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today ruled in favor of John Taylor, a Washington, D.C. model aircraft enthusiast who challenged the FAA’s registration requirement in court.

“The 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act provides that the FAA ‘may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft,’ yet the FAA’s 2015 Registration Rule is a ‘rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft.’ Statutory interpretation does not get much simpler. The registration rule is unlawful as applied to model aircraft,” the ruling stated.

The FAA first opened up the web-based registration for model unmanned aircraft owners on Dec. 21, 2015. More than 300,000 drones were registered within the first month. Registration required information on the manufacturer, model and serial number, in addition to the owner’s physical and email addresses. Each $5 registration covered a single aircraft for a period of three years.

The agency expanded the registry in March of 2016 to include commercial drone operators, who had previously been required to obtain special FAA authorization. It is not clear if the ruling covers commercial operations since it implicitly states that, “Unmanned aircraft operated for recreational purposes are known as ‘model aircraft,’ and we will use that term throughout this opinion.”

In a statement issued Friday afternoon, the FAA said it was digesting the ruling:
“We are carefully reviewing the U.S. Court of Appeals decision as it relates to drone registrations. The FAA put registration and operational regulations in place to ensure that drones are operated in a way that is safe and does not pose security and privacy threats. We are in the process of considering our options and response to the decision.”

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, or AUVSI, issued the following statement regarding the court’s determination:

“AUVSI is disappointed with the decision today by the U.S. Court of Appeals to reject the FAA’s rule for registering recreational unmanned aircraft systems. A UAS registration system is important to promote accountability and responsibility by users of the national airspace, and helps create a culture of safety that deters careless and reckless behavior. We plan to work with Congress on a legislative solution that will ensure continued accountability across the entire aviation community, both manned and unmanned.”

The drone registry was conceived of by a task force set up by the FAA and the Department of Transportation, in an ongoing effort to safely integrate unmanned aerial vehicles into national airspace since the little quadcopter types started swarming the consumer market. According to a January 2017 forecast from the Consumer Technology Association, “Total drone sales are expected to reach new heights in 2017, topping 3.4 million units—a 40 percent increase—and $1 billion in revenue for the first time—a 46 percent increase.

“CTA’s forecast also delineates U.S. drone sales for units below and above 250 grams, the FAA’s division for mandatory drone registration: Drones below 250 grams are expected to reach 2 million units, and drones above 250 grams will sell 1.3 million units.”

The FAA adopted rules for unmanned aerial vehicles last June. The rules went into effect Aug. 29.