On Friday, a Washington D.C. court ruled that the FAA’s 2015 small unmanned aircraft (UAS) registration rule violates the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. Under the rule, owners of drones weighing between .55 and 55 pounds were required to register their aircraft, because, as then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in the original statement, “unmanned aircraft enthusiast are aviators, and with that title comes a great deal of responsibility.”
However, recreational drone hobbyist John Taylor argued that drones qualify as “model aircraft,” which are protected from the FAA’s regulations by the 2012 act. The appeals court agreed, as circuit judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote: "Taylor does not think that the FAA had the statutory authority to issue the Registration Rule and require him to register. Taylor is right."
The emphasis of the 2015 registration rule was on education and awareness for recreational drone pilots, and giving the FAA “an opportunity to work with these users to operate their unmanned aircraft safely.” The agency rolled out a website for quick and easy registration, and more than 800,000 drones have been registered with a $5 application fee since that day.
Taylor told MarketWatch last week that he believes enforcement and education for responsible drone use is necessary, but the registration process as an educational tool for recreational drone users was ultimately “bogus,” because it’s too quick.
In response to the decision, the FAA released the following statement:
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.
“This opinion suggests the FAA is precluded from regulating in any way the operation of drones used for recreational purposes,” said Patrick Byrnes, a partner in the Locke Lord law firm’s litigation department and member of the Aviation and Defense Group. “Separate and apart from this decision, there are potential further constitutional challenges to the FAA’s regulatory authority over the commercial use of drones below 500 ft. and, in particular, on private property.”
While the FAA's response is uncertain, the agency can appeal to the judges, or it can appeal to congress, which has already vowed to become more involved in unmanned aircraft regulations.