On Friday, May 19, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia vacated a law put in place in 2015 that required both hobbyist and commercial drone pilots to register drones with the FAA. The D.C. court posits that the Registration Rule is unlawful due to the FAA Modernization and Reform Act that was passed in 2012, which states that the FAA may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft. In short, the court decided that the initial law that is set to expire in September 2017 overrules that of the Registration Rule, and therefore hobbyists would not need to register in order to fly their drones.
John Taylor, a D.C. resident, brought forth the initial petition in an effort to fly his hobby drone without the need to register, and also attempted to challenge the ban on the operation of model aircraft in various restricted areas (including all of Washington D.C. and much of its surrounding geography), but was denied.
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Although the Registration Rule was turned down, the court is giving the FAA seven days to petition the ruling, which in turn means until May 26 hobbyists still must register in order to fly their drone. This includes any drone heavier than .55 pounds (up to 55 pounds) or if they are to be used in a commercial setting. It currently costs $5 to register each drone, which some referred to as a drone tax. The Registration Rule was put in place as both a precautionary and reactionary measure as some hobbyists over the years have caused property damage, interfered with air traffic, interfering with fire fighting missions, and a crash landing on the White House lawn.
Surprising Reactions to Rule Change
In a somewhat surprising response, DJI’s head of policy Brendan Schulman told Recode that the existing policy was both reasonable and added accountability to hobbyists.
“The FAA's innovative approach to drone registration was very reasonable, and registration provides for accountability and education to drone pilots,” DJI’s head of policy Brendan Schulman said in an email to Recode. “I expect the legal issue that impedes this program will be addressed by cooperative work between the industry and policymakers.”
This was also mirrored in a statement by Kara Calvert, the Executive Director of the Drone Manufacturers Alliance (DMA).
“DMA is studying the implications of today's registration-related court ruling, but believes the existing system has worked well to protect the interests of safe and responsible pilots as well as the interests of society at large. As we wait for word on whether the FAA will appeal this ruling, we hope all sides see the benefit of a reasonable and minimally restrictive form of basic regulation that has helped make drone operations in America overwhelmingly safe. We look forward to working with policymakers on a long-term legislative solution.”
In a prepared statement by the FAA, they stated the administration is reviewing the decision:
“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.”
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