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Court Overturns FAA Drone Registration Rule

The United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit recently overturned the December 2015 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ruling that required users of unmanned non-commercial aircraft – otherwise known as drones – to register with the agency. The rule necessitated that Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) operators register with the FAA through paying a $5 registration fee and supplying a name, address, and email to the FAA, in addition to also publicly displaying an identification number on their aircraft. The FAA reported that as of May 23, there were 836,577 registrations in their system, of which 764,830 were hobbyists.

Restrictions on UAVs arose from concerns of public safety and possible airborne collisions. “Potential encounters” between drones, pilots, and law enforcement have been increasing, numbering around 100 occurrences a month according to a FAA report. The published FAA “Registration and Marking Requirements for Small Unmanned Aircraft” rule states that it took into consideration public comments as well as recommendations from the Unmanned Aircraft System Registration Task Force. The FAA released its “Final Rule on the Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems,” and estimated that this final rule has the capability to create over 100,000 new jobs and spur over $82 billion in economic investment.

John Taylor, a Mryland lawyer and drone enthusiast, fought against this decision, denouncing it as “authoritarian.” Taylor argued that the rule was in direct conflict with a 2012 federal law which prohibited the FAA from issuing regulation for recreational “model aircraft,” also interpreted to mean Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS).

On May 19, 2017, a panel of three judges agreed with Taylor. Judge Kavanaugh was responsible for writing the opinion voiding the FAA regulation, and summarizes their defense,

In short, 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.”

Kavanaugh added that Congress may repeal or amend the original 2012 law prohibiting FAA rulemaking on this subject, and said that “perhaps Congress should do so. Perhaps not. In any event, we must follow the statute as written.” In response to this court decision, the FAA announced that they were reviewing the decision and contemplating next steps, citing that the FAA created the rule, “to ensure that drones are operated in a way that is safe and does not pose security and privacy threats.”

Read more here – “John Taylor fought the FAA over registering drones. And won. But now what?,” (Mike Laris, The Washington Post)

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