Appeals Court Strikes Down Registration for Recreational UAVs

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals this week ruled that FAA’s registration requirement for recreational UAVs contradicts the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, the last FAA authorization enacted into law.

The 2012 bill prohibits the FAA from regulating model aircraft “flown strictly for hobby or recreational use” if that aircraft weighs no more than 55 pounds and gives way to manned aircraft, among other requirements. Recreational UAV enthusiast and lawyer John Taylor used this provision to challenge the FAA’s regulation requiring that all UAVs be registered and marked with an N-number.

The 2012 bill, however, also states “Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the authority of the [FAA] to pursue enforcement action against persons operating model aircraft who endanger the safety of the national airspace system.”

The court summarized its decision by stating “Congress is of course always free to repeal or amend its 2012 prohibition on FAA rules regarding model aircraft. Perhaps Congress should do so. Perhaps not. In any event, we must follow the statute as written.”

The FAA must be reauthorized by Sept. 30, 2017. NAAA released opposing the Court’s decision as did Helicopter Association International and even AUVSI–the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. Manned and unmanned aviation groups are still determining next steps. One likely response will be to urge Congress to provide the FAA the direct authority to require UAV registration of hobbyists.

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