No registration required: Federal appeals court cancels drone registration rule

Duke SciPol (Michael Clamann, PhD) – In December 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released the so-called Registration Rule (80 FR 78594), requiring hobbyists to register their recreational drones with the agency. But that rule changed suddenly last week.

On Friday, the US Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, determined that the FAA’s Registration Rule is unlawful as it applies to model aircraft. The court’s decision pointed directly at the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act (Public Law 112-095; 49 U.S.C. 40101 note):

In short, the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act provides that the FAA “may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft,” [Section 336] yet the FAA’s 2015 Registration Rule is a “rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft.” Statutory interpretation does not get much simpler. The Registration Rule is unlawful as applied to model aircraft.

Following the ruling, the FAA released a statement saying that they are “considering their options and response to the decision.” Of note, the FAA’s rules still apply to drones used for commercial and research purposes.

Reactions to the ruling

According to Mashable, the initial court petition challenging drone registration was filed in 2015 by John Taylor, just a few days after the FAA's drone registry went live. Since that time, 300,000 drones have been registered. Mashable also points out that the intent of the registration program was to “keep non-commercial drone users from acting irresponsibly by holding them accountable via registration information.”

Inverse provided two viewpoints on the decision. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) believes that the registry “builds a culture of safety and helps to deter careless and reckless behavior.” In contrast, the Academy of Model Aeronautics found the registration requirement “unnecessary and burdensome,” and supported the decision.

Flight restrictions still in place

Taylor’s petition also challenged FAA’s Advisory Circular 91-57A, which prohibits the operation of model aircraft in restricted areas. Among these areas is Washington, D.C., where Taylor resides. The court refused to consider this aspect of Taylor’s petition, however, because the petition was not filed within 60 days of the order’s issuance. Therefore, the restriction still stands.

Despite the decision, commercial drone manufacturer DJI is now requiring consumers to register their drones with the company in order to enable all the drone’s features. According to Engadget, should a consumer fail to register their DJI drone online with the company, the drone “won't be able to access the geospatial info and flight functions, camera streaming will be disabled and flight range will be curtailed to a 164-foot radius, up to 98 feet high.”