The FAA offered two arguments for issuing the Registration Rule. First, they argued that other statutory provisions, not affected by the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, require any aircraft to register with the agency. And even though the FAA had not required model aircraft to register prior to the Rule, the FAA claims to use the Rule to demonstrate that they now wish to exercise their previously-unused authority to regulated model aircraft. The Court dismissed this argument because the Rule created an entirely new regulatory regime, namely the process of registering the model aircraft and facing civil and criminal penalties for failing to do so.
Second, the FAA argued that regulating model aircraft is consistent with their agency’s policy directive to “improve aviation safety.” But the Court likewise dismissed this argument because, as the Supreme Court has previously decided (Central Bank of Denver, N.A. v. First Interstate Bank of Denver, N.A., 511 U.S. 164), policy considerations cannot overrule statutory text.
Of note, the Registration Rule not only applied to small unmanned aircraft defined as “model aircraft”, but also to small unmanned aircraft not meeting the definition of “model aircraft”, i.e. those used for commercial or research purposes. This decision only impacts the small unmanned aircraft defined as “model aircraft”; individuals must still register their drones via the requirements in the Registration Rule if they will use those drones for other purposes.