The District of Columbia Court of Appeals recently struck down a regulation from the Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") mandating registration of all drones. The Court found that the registration requirement was too intrusive and overstepped the bounds of the FAA. The petitioner argued that the registration requirement imposed by the FAA violated the statute's clear instruction not to promulgate any rule or regulation relating to model aircraft. The Court found the argument persuasive and vacated the registration rule to the extent it applies to model aircraft used by hobbyist.
The FAA implemented a new law in December 2015 that required registration of all drones used for a recreational purpose weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds. In the first 30 days of this requirement, nearly 300,000 users registered their drones. The registration process included a form with personal information such as name, email address, and mailing address among other information. The registration could be completed through the online platform and once the $5 fee was paid, each registrant was given an identification number for their drone.
The FAA is charged with sustaining safety of the nation's airspace and traffic. The 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act states that the FAA "may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding model aircraft." Model aircrafts under this act are capable of sustaining flight, are flown within sight of someone operating the aircraft, and are flown for hobby or recreational purposes.
The FAA argued that registration was required for safety reasons related to security and privacy threats. While several groups support the D.C. Court of Appeals ruling finding that the registration was overstepping the FAA's bounds, others feel the registration was reasonable. This issue could spark additional legislation relating to this issue.
Although the D.C. Court of Appeals decision reduces the regulation of personal drone use, the federal government's power relating to drones may be increasing. New proposed legislation signals that the Trump administration is concerned about possible terrorist attacks using drones. A 10-page draft legislation and summary was published and summarized by the New York Times in late May. If passed, the legislation would authorize the government to detect, redirect, disable, confiscate, and destroy drones, while respecting privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties. For hobbyist and commercial drone users alike, the opportunities and restrictions in this area are changing daily. If you have any questions, please contact a Foster Swift attorney.