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Hobbyist defeats FAA in battle over drone registration, but says the fight’s not over

Aerix Drones' Models have never been required to be registered under the previous legislation, due to their small size and weight, but this is a great step forward for drone pilots and enthusiasts across the USA!

Recreational drone users no longer have to register their flying machines with the Federal Aviation Administration, thanks to a federal court ruling handed down today, but the hobbyist who filed the challenge says the issue is far from settled.

“I’m concerned, as are other hobbyists, that the FAA will now go to Congress and try to get the authority that they lack,” John Taylor, a Maryland insurance attorney and drone pilot, told GeekWire via email.

The FAA instituted its registration fee for non-commercial drones weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds in late 2015. By early this year, more than 670,000 operators had paid a $5 registration fee.

Registered operators were required to stick their ID number onto their drones and re-register every three years. Failing to do so could land an operator in prison for up to three years with a maximum criminal penalty of $250,000.

Taylor argued that drones technically qualified as “model aircraft,” and that the FAA was barred from regulating model aircraft under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

Drone hobbyist John Taylor
John Taylor challenged the FAA’s rules for recreational drone registration. (Photo Courtesy of John Taylor)

In today’s ruling, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia agreed with the FAA that the rule on registration could improve aviation safety, but sided with Taylor’s argument that the FAA had no statutory authority to enforce that rule.

In a statement, the FAA said it was reviewing today’s ruling.

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

The FAA did not address whether people who already registered their drones would get their $5 back, but Taylor believes they should.

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