Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)

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FAA's Hobby-Drone Registration Requirement Ruled Illegal

May 24, 2017

The FAA is "considering its options" following a May 19 court ruling that found the agency's registration requirement for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) flown recreationally violates law that prohibits the FAA from regulating model aircraft.

The registration rule required a $5, three-year registration of any UAS weighing between 0.55. and 55 pounds and flown outdoors.

The FAA is carefully reviewing a May 19, 2017, court ruling that found the agency's registration requirement for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) flown recreationally violates law prohibiting the FAA from regulating model aircraft.

A Washington, DC-area resident and drone hobbyist challenged the requirement, arguing that the FAA does not have the authority to make him – and by extension other hobbyists – register their UAS. The court agreed in a 3-0 decision.

"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,'" the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia explained in its ruling. "Statutory interpretation does not get much simpler. The registration rule is unlawful as applied to model aircraft."

The FAA argued that its registration requirement was not a new rule, but rather "a decision to cease its exercise of enforcement discretion" and start including small drones in its general aircraft registration requirements. The court disagreed, calling the registration requirement "a rule that creates a new regulatory regime for model aircraft."

"We are carefully reviewing the U.S. Court of Appeals decision as it relates to drone registrations," said the FAA. "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 court's ruling, which stopped registration of hobbyist UAS immediately, has no effect on UAS of any size flown for commercial purposes by NBAA members or other commercial operators.

It also does not leave recreational small-drone operations unregulated. Operators of small drones still must follow the requirements of Section 336 of the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which include keeping clear of manned aircraft and coordinating with airports and/or air traffic control when operating within five miles of an airport.