Since December 2015, the FAA has required all UAS owners to register their aircraft via their website and pay a $5 fee. The hobbyist registrant was then issued a unique identification number which was to be put on their drone. The panel that created this registration rule was made up of UAS industry representatives as well as representatives of hobbyist drone owners. Many accepted this registration process as a way of educating hobbyists about safety guidelines. As of May 19, this ruling was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals. They ruled in favor of John Taylor, a drone hobbyist who challenged the legality of the FAA’s program requiring drone registration. The Court concluded that the rule requiring registration directly contradicted a rule from 2012.
The rule they reference is the FAA Modernization and Reform Act passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in 2012. Section 336 of the act states that the FAA “may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft.” The section defines a model aircraft this way: “an unmanned aircraft that is (1) capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere; (2) flown within visual line of sight of the person operation the aircraft; and (3) flown for hobby or recreational purposes.”
Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh makes this statement in an opinion for the Court: “Statutory interpretation does not get much simpler. The Registration Rule is unlawful as applied to model aircraft.”
The court decision is being met with some criticism in the UAS industry – raising concerns about safety and accountability. Brian Wynne, AUVSI* President and CEO, was a member of the panel that created the UAS registration rule. Wynne made this official comment following the ruling: “AUVSI is disappointed with the decision today by the U.S. Court of Appeals to reject the FAA’s rule for registering recreation unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). A UAS registration system is important to promote accountability and responsibility by users of the national airspace, and helps create a culture of safety that deters careless and reckless behavior. We plan to work with Congress on a legislative solution that will ensure continued accountability across the entire aviation community, both manned and unmanned.”
Others have a different opinion of the new ruling. Aviation attorney Loretta Aikalay says, “The case is a victory for model aircraft enthusiasts and those who oppose government overregulation of hobby flying.” The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) states on their website that the group is reviewing the ruling. The AMA has historically opposed registration for hobbyist UAS aviators.
The FAA made an official statement in response to the ruling. “We are carefully reviewing the U.S. Court of Appeals decision as it relates to drone registrations. 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.”
With the ever emerging technology in UAS, appropriate legislation must be established along with it. This is an interesting topic with many aspects for consideration. What do you think?
*AUVSI (Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International) is the world’s largest nonprofit organization devoted exclusively to advancing the unmanned systems and robotics community.