Hobbyists No Longer Have To Register Their Drones As Court Ruling Blocks FAA Requirement


Hobbyists will no longer have to register their drones after a federal appeals court repealed the requirement of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Appeals court judges in Washington D.C. agreed on May 19 with a legal challenge against the drone registration program of the FAA, started near the end of 2015.

FAA Drone Registration Program

In December 2015, the FAA started requiring consumers to purchase their drones with the Unammed Aircraft System registry before they can fly them outdoors.

The FAA charged a $5 registration fee for each drone, though the fee was free for drones registered until Jan. 20, 2016. The registration process was actually quite easy, and the $5 fee was insignificant compared to the up to $27,500 in fines and up to $250,000 and three years in prison for criminal violations.

The drone registration program drew massive numbers, with over 45,000 registrations in its first two days that actually caused the website to crash. While this showed that drone hobbyists were willing to comply with the requirement, a legal challenge was filed against the FAA.

The case, filed in January 2016 by insurance attorney and drone hobbyist John A. Taylor, alleged that the FAA violated section 336 of its own FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. The section stated that it does not have the power to enforce rules and regulations on model aircraft.

Federal Appeals Court Blocks Drone Registration Program

Over a year later, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia agreed with the allegation and ruled that the FAA would not be able to regulate drones, which are seen also as model aircraft.

The ruling could not yet be enforced, as the court gave the FAA seven days to respond to it. It can seek reconsideration for the ruling, appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, request for legislation granting it authority to regulating drones from Congress, or simply abide by it.

The 2012 law is set to expire at the end of the year, so it is time for Congress to revisit it and determine if the FAA will have oversight on drones.

Reactions To Court Ruling

There have been mixed reactions to the court ruling, further widening the divide between those who believe that drones should be registered and those that do not.

Some believe that drone registration is needed so that pilots are accountable for any damage caused or laws broken by their drones. One of the groups that disagreed with the ruling is the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, which said that it plans to work with Congress for legislation that will again enforce the drone registration program.

Taylor, however, said that the program is just overzealous registration, as hobby drones could not be considered as serious threats. Academy of Model Aeronautics president Rich Hanson added that community-based programs would work better than a federal program in managing drones.

The FAA expects the number of active drones in the United States to balloon from 1.1 million currently to 3.55 million by 2021. Citizens will be more comfortable with the drones flying overhead if there is some sort of control over them, though whether the regulation will be enforced by the FAA or not remains to be seen.

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