The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began enforcing its new regulation concerning the registration of recreational drones and other Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) beginning Dec. 21. While the FAA may have prepared for continued protest against the new rule, it probably was not expecting to face charges in Federal Court for violating its own rules.
The case was filed by insurance attorney and recreational UAS hobbyist, John A. Taylor, who alleged that the new regulations are a direct violation to the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. According to him, section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 invalidated the new regulations and that the Federal Court should halt the FAAs activities. Taylor's allegations are quite serious, to say the least, but does it really hold water in court?
What Does Section 336 Say?
"The Administrator of the [FAA] may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft," section 336 indicates. This, of course, comes with the following conditions:
1. The UAS must strictly be flown as a hobby or for recreational purposes;
2. Operation of the UAS must follow community safety guidelines within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization;
3. The UAS must weigh 55 pounds at most;
4. The UAS must not interfere with operations of manned aircrafts; and,
5. The UAS may not be flown within 5 miles of an airport. UAS may only go closer to an airport if the operator has contacted the airport and air traffic control tower and was given permission in accordance with a mutually agreed upon operating procedure.
What Does The FAA Say About The Allegation?
The FAA has not given a comment about the allegation; however, its position may be revealed in one of the previous announcements it released with regard to the issue. An official document released by the FAA in June 2014 provided the FAA's interpretations on the scope and limitations of its power over the creation and modification of regulations involving model aircrafts. Specifically, the FAA maintains that interpretation of section 336 is on a rule-by-rule basis.
"The rulemaking prohibition would not apply in the case of general rules that the FAA may issue or modify that apply to all aircraft, such as rules addressing the use of airspace... for safety or security reasons. The statute does not require FAA to exempt model aircraft from those rules because those rules are not specifically regarding model aircraft," the FAA explained.
What Does This Mean For The Case?
Taylor's case did not meet the requirements before the deadline so the Court of Appeals denied it on Dec. 24. However, it will still proceed on Jan. 27, the next filing deadline. Perhaps Taylor's chance would come if the court decides that the rule-by-rule basis that FAA went by still violates the rules put in place to limit its power.
It must be noted, however, that FAA opened the rules for comment prior to passing the regulations but not even the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), the officially recognized national body for model aviation in the United States (U.S.), brought up section 336. Instead, the AMA's focus is to protect the rights of its members who adhere to the organization's strict rules.
"The central issue is whether the FAA has the authority to expand the definition of aircraft to include model aircraft; thus, allowing the agency to establish new standards and operating criteria to which model aircraft operators have never been subject to in the past.... While we continue to believe that registration makes sense at some threshold and for flyers operating outside of a community-based organization or flying for commercial purposes, we also strongly believe our members are not the problem and should not have to bear the burden of additional regulations," the AMA explained.
The AMA has a point considering many of the violators that FAA want to regulate are the UAS operators who do not belong to the AMA and, most likely, did not read the FAA's guidelines.
Photo: Gabriel Garcia Marengo | Flickr