A federal appeals court has shot down a rule requiring hobbyists to register their drones.
Appeals court judges in Washington, D.C. agreed with a drone enthusiast's challenge to a FAA requirement that all hobbyists register their drones in a national database every three years and pay a $5 fee. People who failed to comply with the regulations risked fines and jail time.
The court found that the FAA’s drone registration rule, which began in Dec. 2015, conflicts with previous federal legislation from 2012 that said that the FAA lacks the authority to regulate “model aircraft.” The appeals court categorizes drones as model aircraft.
About 760,000 hobbyists have registered more than 1.6 million drones since 2015, and sales have skyrocketed, reported the LA Times. The FAA estimates that hobbyists will buy 2.3 million drones this year and 13 million by the end of 2020. Commercial operators from photographers to oil pipeline and cellphone tower owners were forecast to buy another 10 million through 2020, the LA Times said.
”Statutory interpretation does not get much simpler,” the appeals court said in siding with plaintiff John Taylor, a drone hobbyist from Washington, DC. “The Registration Rule is unlawful as applied to model aircraft.”
The FAA responded to the ruling by saying that it would review the decision before determining its next step, if any. A potential strategy is to get Congress to amend the original 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act that designated drones as model aircraft that were not subject to FAA authority.
"Congress is of course always free to repeal or amend its 2012 prohibition on FAA rules regarding model aircraft," the judges said. "Perhaps Congress should do so. Perhaps not. In any event, we must follow the statute as written."
Rich Hanson, president of The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), said: "For decades, AMA members have registered their aircraft with AMA and have followed our community-based safety programming. It is our belief that a community-based program works better than a federally mandated program to manage the recreational community."
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a drone and robotics advocacy non-profit, disagreed, and said that the federal registration system "is important to promote accountability and responsibility by users of the national airspace."
"We plan to work with Congress on a legislative solution that will ensure continued accountability across the entire aviation community, both manned and unmanned,” said AUVSI president and CEO Brian Wynne in a statement.
The Small UAV Coalition, a drone coalition, also opposed the court order. "The FAA must have appropriate authority to maintain reasonable oversight of UAS operations, including management of a national UAS registry, which is the first step to identifying UAS operating in the national airspace," the Small UAV Coalition said in a statement.