Court Ruling: The FAA Can't Make You Register Your Drone

The law had a rule which stated that the FAA "may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft". Some 759,000 hobbyists have signed up since the FAA regulation was enacted in 2015.

Now, if a person buys a new drone to fly for fun, they no longer have to register that aircraft with the FAA. One of them sued the FAA in February of 2016, and a federal court in Washington, D.C. ruled in favor of hobbyists, meaning that the FAA can no longer require you (or anyone else) to register their personal drones. Beginning on December 21-just days before Christmas-anyone who owned a drone weighing more than 0.55 pounds at takeoff (helpfully, the FAA indicated this was the equivalent of two sticks of butter) would be required to register themselves pursuant to a statute authorizing the registration of aircraft.

Drone registration was prompted by reports of the unmanned craft flying near traditional aircraft, including airliners at some of the largest US airports.

The FAA's recreational drone registry may have been struck down, but its commercial drone regulations were not at issue, and remain in force. It required owners to mark aircraft with an identification number and imposed civil and criminal penalties on those who did not comply.

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. On May 18, in a lawsuit brought by model-aircraft hobbyist John Taylor, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The FAA is reviewing the ruling, it said in an emailed statement. "We are in the process of considering our options and response to the decision".

The ruling does not change requirements for commercial drone pilots.

The world's largest civilian drone builder, China-based SZ DJI Technology Co., said that the FAA's registration system had made sense.

"We need a new national imperative in unmanned systems that, like the air traffic control system and interstate highway system before it, creates greater capacity, reduces road congestion, fulfills consumer demand and facilitates the future of commerce", Wynne said.

The FAA released a statement saying that it was studying its options and that registration was "to ensure that drones are operated in a way that is safe and does not pose security and privacy threats".

"We plan to work with Congress on a legislative solution that will ensure continued accountability across the entire aviation community, both manned and unmanned", he said.

Asked what motivated him to file the suit, Taylor replied that the registration system is "just so clearly unlawful". Industry groups, including the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) and the Small UAV Coalition, said they were disappointed by the decision, while the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), a model aircraft group, said the ruling affirmed the rights of model aircraft operators and softened too-aggressive rulemaking.

  • Zachary Reyes