Appeals court strikes down FAA drone registration rule

FILE - In this file photo, a hexacopter drone is flown during a drone demonstration in Cordova, Md. An appeals court has struck down a Federal Aviation Administration rule that required owners to register drones used for recreation. Cordova, Maine, June 11, 2015 | AP Photo by Alex Brandon, File, St. George News

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA (AP) — An appeals court on Friday struck down a Federal Aviation Administration rule that required owners of drones used for recreation to register their craft.

The ruling was a victory for hobbyists and a setback for the FAA, which cited safety concerns as it tried to tighten regulation of the fast-growing army of drone operators.

Some pilots of commercial airliners have reported close calls with drones flying near airports.

About 760,000 hobbyists have registered more than 1.6 million drones since 2015, and sales have skyrocketed. The FAA estimates that hobbyists will buy 2.3 million drones this year and 13 million by the end of 2020. Commercial operators from photographers to oil pipeline and cellphone tower owners were forecast to buy another 10 million through 2020.

The FAA decided in 2015 to require hobbyists to register their drones, or model aircraft. Violators could be sentenced to prison.

The registration requirement was challenged by John A. Taylor, a drone hobbyist in the Washington, D.C., area.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with Taylor, saying that a law passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama in 2012 barred the FAA from imposing new regulations on model aircraft.

The three-judge panel said that safety was obviously important and making hobbyists register “may well help further that goal to some degree,” but it was up to Congress to repeal the ban on FAA rules for model aircraft.

A spokesman for the FAA said the agency was reviewing the decision.

The ruling demonstrated the schism in the drone world. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, whose members include big commercial drone operators and manufacturers, expressed disappointment with the court’s ruling. The group’s president, Brian Wynne, said registration “helps create a culture of safety that deters careless and reckless behavior.” He vowed to seek a legislative fix in Congress.

A lawyer for China’s DJI, the world’s biggest drone maker, said registration was reasonable and fostered “accountability and education to drone pilots.” Brendan Schulman said he expected more discussion between industry and governments over the program.

Some model aircraft enthusiasts had complained that the registration requirement was too burdensome.

“On balance this is probably a good thing,” said Vic Moss, a commercial photographer and drone operator in Colorado. “The FAA definitely overstepped their boundaries with the registration, and the fact that they called it an emergency action didn’t help them look good.”

Moss was worried, however, that the issue was so contentious that the FAA might successfully lobby Congress for clear authority to regulate hobbyists.

Registration cost $5 and had to be renewed every three years. It required owners to mark aircraft with an identification number and imposed civil and criminal penalties on those who did not comply.

Taylor also challenged FAA restrictions on where drones can operate in the Washington, D.C. area. The court said that appeal was filed too late.

Written by DAVID KOENIG and SAM HANANEL, Associated Press

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • Proud Rebel May 21, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    While I am for as little government interference, (unnecessary registration etc.) I do believe that safety calls for some way of finding the owner of drones. Not just the hobbyists​, but commercial and government agency drones.
    If the people who operated them used common sense, we wouldn’t need regulations. But when operators are so stupid and self-centered as to use them where they interfere with public safety operations, such as wildfire control, or around airports then those operaters need to have big brother do their thinking for them. It’s a sad state of affairs that people are not taught to actually think. Rights and Responsibilities. Everybody clammers for their rights, but few are willing to take responsibility.

    • Anejo May 22, 2017 at 7:36 am

      Totally agree with this. Unfortunately common sense isn’t that common anymore! Having seen how these clowns hindered the hot shot crews, on last year’s Saddle Fire in Pine Valley, a small tax and some accountability would go a long way towards easing some of the concerns around their usage.

    • RealMcCoy May 22, 2017 at 1:16 pm

      I have no problems with being forced to register with the FAA in order to fly my drone. You get a little license card that says you are an FAA registered pilot.
      Fun fact: The FAA was in such a rush to pass their ‘law’ that they skipped a few steps- like clarifying the difference between an FAA certified drone pilot and an FAA certified jumbo jet pilot, so the Federal laws still technically cover both. This means that if some jerk tries to shoot down or disable my drone, or impedes me as I fly my drone, then that jerk is committing a FELONY- impeding a pilot and/or a licensed aircraft- no different than the crime of shining a laser at a pilot in the air!
      I know, I know- a good lawyer would get the charges dropped, but in the meantime, the felony aggressor gets to rack up a nice defense lawyer bill.
      Hahahahahaha, see the silver lining now?
      But while we are on the topic of “when operators are so stupid and self-centered as to use them where they interfere with public safety operations”, let’s require bicyclists and skateboarders to pay to register their hobby-craft as well. To quote Anejo below- “a small tax and some accountability would go a long way towards easing some of the concerns around their usage.”
      Yes, another fun fact: Bicyclists and skateboarders have cause FAR more damage and accidents than drone operators have. So far, anyways.
      Let’s all play by the same rules, and have bicyclists and skateboarders pay their $5 registration too.
      Then everybody wins!

      • .... May 23, 2017 at 5:28 am

        You should register as whiner then everybody wins

  • Larry May 21, 2017 at 9:54 pm

    Let me know if I’m mistaken, but I believe the only Drones that have proven to be a significant safety hazard and have actually killed people, (including civilians and many of them completely innocent children)…, Have been the Drones owned and operated by The United States Federal Government.

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