So it turns out the Federal Aviation Administration’s mandatory drone registry rule… well… was illegal. According to the May 19th Appeals Court decision, the 2015 FAA regulation requiring owners of unmanned aircraft’s weighing 0.55 and 55 lbs to register their devices was, in fact, a violation of the 2012 Modernization and Reform Act signed by President Obama.
FAA’s Mandatory Registry
This is fantastic news for the future drone hobbyist. Whether you want to splurge on one of the Best Drones of 2017 or simply looking to capture breathtaking aerial footage with an entry level model, the sky is the limit. With unregistered drone users subject to fines up to $250,000 and the possibility of three years in prison, the FAA wasn’t messing around with their regulation.
The person who set the Court of Appeals challenge in motion: recreational drone hobbyist John Taylor.
The Court of Appeals Decision
“In 2012, Congress passed and President Obama signed the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act. Section 336(a) of the Act states that the FAA ‘may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft’… The FAA’s 2015 Regulation Rule, which applies to model aircraft, directly violates that clear statutory prohibition. We, therefore, grant Taylor’s petition and vacate the Registration Rule to the extent that it applies to model aircraft.”
So what does this mean for commercial drone flying? Still subject to mandatory FAA regulation, commercial operators must “report the aircraft’s intended use, time or number of flights, the area of operation, among other things.” Nothing has changed on the commercial side of things but for hobbyist interested in flying their new quadcopter around the neighborhood, they can do it without concern for compliance deadlines or displaying a unique identifier number issued by the FAA.
The FAA recently released a statement about the Court of Appeals decision:
“We are carefully reviewing the U.S. Court of Appeals decision as it relates to drone registrations,” it reads. “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 this decision.”
To be fair, the FAA was given the responsibility of policing unmanned aircraft’s during a time of rapid advancement in drone technology. The Aviation Administration enacted a regulation for the sake of protecting the U.S. skies from unwanted surveillance and by doing so, safeguarded the privacy of citizens with its mandatory registry. It just so happened to violate the Modernization and Reform Act.
With that being said, it will be interesting to see the next steps the FAA takes to regulate the airspace above major metropolitan areas. Flying an unmanned recreational drone over restricted airspaces, like over the Pentagon, will certainly come with severe consequences. But for now, drone hobbyist no longer have to provide their name, address, e-mail, and any other information the Federal Aviation Administration deems fit.