Drone-Registration Rule Struck Down by DC Circuit

WASHINGTON (CN) – Citing a ban against U.S. regulation of model aircraft, the D.C. Circuit struck down a rule Friday that required consumers to register unmanned recreational drones.

The Federal Aviation Administration had adopted the rule in 2015, no small, unmanned drones could take to the sky before their owners paid a $5 registration fee with disclosure of their names and any mailing and email addresses. Owners who flew their drones without registering them could face fines and up to three years behind bars.

John Taylor, a hobbyist who lives near Washington, D.C., filed his challenge to the FAA’s rule just days after it was published, arguing that the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act explicitly prevented the agency from regulating model aircraft.

A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit agreed on Friday.

“The FAA’s 2015 registration rule, which applies to model aircraft, directly violates that clear statutory prohibition,” U.S. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote for the court.

Attorneys for the government failed to sway Kavanaugh’s panel that the FAA was merely applying a much older requirement for all aircraft to register before flying.

But Kavanaugh disagreed, saying the regulation forces on model aircraft new requirements and with penalties to which they were not exposed before. He also quickly dispensed with the agency’s argument that its regulation of model aircraft fit with the law’s larger goal of “improving aviation safety.”

“Congress is of course always free to repeal or amend its 2012 prohibition on FAA rules regarding model aircraft,” the 10-page opinion states. “Perhaps Congress should do so. Perhaps not. In any event, we must follow the statute as written.”

Taylor was not wholly successful on Friday, however, as the D.C. Circuit found his failure to meet a statutory deadline kept it from considering his challenge to a separate FAA rule that set up no-fly zones in Washington for drones.

Regulators stayed mum Friday about whether they will appeal.

“The FAA put registration and operation regulations in place to ensure that drones are operated in a way that is safe and does not pose security and privacy threats,” the FAA said in a statement. “We are in the process of considering our options and response to the decision.”

Taylor represented himself in the fight against the FAA, and did not respond to a request for comment beyond a press release announcing the decision.

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