Court of Appeals rules FAA drone registry illegal

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The law is such an inconvenient thing: The U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled that a recently imposed FAA requirement that amateur drone operators register their drone with the FAA is illegal.

Introduced in 2015, the mandatory drone registry required owners of unmanned aircraft weighing between 0.55 and 55 lb (250 g and 25 kg) to register their machines with the FAA. If not, they faced fines of up to $250,000.

This drew the ire of some in the drone industry, and the many hobbyists who had been flying small aircraft recreationally for years. One such hobbyist, John Taylor, went to the lengths of challenging the FAA’s new rule in the US Court of Appeals. Today, that court ruled in his favor.

“Taylor is right,” the decision reads. “In 2012, Congress passed and President Obama signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act. Section 336(a) of that Act states that the FAA ‘may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft’ … The FAA’s 2015 Registration Rule, which applies to model aircraft, directly violates that clear statutory prohibition. We therefore grant Taylor’s petition and vacate the Registration Rule to the extent it applies to model aircraft.”

It is not surprising that a bureaucrat or government agency would try to impose more regulations on the public than is required or allowed. It is all about power, and these regulations give power to the regulators. What is different today is that the federal bureaucracy is now so large and so involved with regulating so many private activities, while the law has simultaneously become so complex and difficult to track, that these abuses happen routinely, unless someone with enough personal resources and determination decides to fight. And even here there is no guarantee that the courts will apply the proper law.



  • Alex

    Mr. Zimmerman: Off-topic, but I am interested your opinion about this following video!! It is very important. I agree with it to full extent. Maybe, you introduce a blog entry about this stuff.

    Why Mexican Immigration WILL END the United States

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “What is different today is that the federal bureaucracy is now so large and so involved with regulating so many private activities, while the law has simultaneously become so complex and difficult to track, that these abuses happen routinely, unless someone with enough personal resources and determination decides to fight. And even here there is no guarantee that the courts will apply the proper law.

    Fortunately, this particular ruling supports liberty and freedom in America. This support is not always the case. With Supreme Court rulings, once a liberty is lost to We the People, it very rarely comes back. This is one of those rare times when a lost liberty is returned to us, although this is an appeals court ruling to a regulation, not a Supreme Court ruling.

    Government is a human creation. It is created by those who are to be governed and is propagated to their progeny. The power to govern is from the people to the leaders, not inherent in the leaders. America’s Founding Fathers understood these concepts, and they understood the three purposes of government. These three purposes are: 1) Protect the citizens, 2) provide peaceful resolution of disputes, and 3) keep out of the people’s way.

    The US Constitution’s Preamble states the Founding Father’s case eloquently and succinctly.

    We the People of the United States … do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Created by those who are to be governed. The Founding Fathers even gave an answer as to why they formed this government: “in Order to form a more perfect Union.”

    “insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence“: Protect its citizens

    “establish Justice“: Provide peaceful resolution of disputes

    “promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity“: Keep the hell out of We the People’s way.

    The Founding Fathers also understood that the people who make up the government tend to lose sight of the three purposes and the reason why government exists in the first place. They warned us of governments tendency to devolve into tyranny. Benjamin Franklin, when asked what kind of government had been created, replied “A republic, if you can keep it.”

    I often truly believe that those entrusted with resolving disputes, especially the justices of the Supreme Court, have either never read the Preamble or have forgotten its meaning. Otherwise they would realize that several of their rulings have violated both the promotion of the general Welfare as well as the securing of the Blessings of Liberty onto the Founding Fathers’ posterity.

    Perhaps, when they rule poorly, we should treat them as we treat misbehaving dogs, we rub their noses in it. Bad Justices. Bad.

    In this case of drones and model airplanes: Good justices. They deserve a treat.

  • pzatchok

    The overlords want us to register model aircraft but the FAA does not require inspections or registration of ultra light single passenger aircraft.

  • Cotour

    This gets more interesting knowing that rule about ultra light air craft.

    I repost this from an earlier FAA story:
    Related because its about the FAA:

    Interesting. I am certain that the FAA knew the limits of their scope to regulate and thought that they would just go for it anyway and see what happens. I suppose this establishes a starting point to attempt to control to some degree, from their point of view?

    Drones can and I am sure will be something to contend with related to security in the future. They are relatively cheap, are getting more and more powerful, they can carry a bigger and bigger payload, longer and longer range and speed, essentially undetectable by radar, there can be many controlled simultaneously and precisely delivered pretty much anywhere using GPS. GULP!
    The potential for chaos in the U.S.A. is unlimited with the introduction of drones IMO. Its a flying, controllable molotov cocktail at the minimum and a real weapon of destruction and death with the introduction of other more compact materials. A potential security details nightmare. The development of the following counter measures tells the tail of the level of concern. Until the devices path and directions are entirely self contained and they are not dependent on GPS that is.

    The non use of these devices in this manner in our country may be an indication of the actual relative low level of present real potential for terrorism?

  • wayne

    The “starting-point,” was 80+ years ago….

    Charles Murray –
    “Who Perverted the Commerce Clause?”

  • wayne

    Wickard V. Filburn
    (an 8-0 ruling at SCOTUS, btw)
    “unconstitutional government & the commerce clause”
    Mark Levin March, 2010

  • wayne

    Professor Richard Epstein:
    “Is the Administrative State Consistent with the Rule of Law?”
    University of Chicago Law School

  • pzatchok

    Turning a drone into a weapon is no different than turning ANY aircraft intoa weapon.
    To a suicidal terrorist its just a form of delivery,

    Why use a drone with a 20 pound bomb instead of an ultra light aircraft with a 200 pound bomb? Or even a larger aircraft?

  • Mike Borgelt

    Good. The FAA seemed to be competing with Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority for most stupid aviation regulator in the world.
    Even our CASA has exempted drones under 2 kilograms even if used for commercial purposes. For once a commendable decision.
    I can think of ways of defeating that “drone defender rifle”. In any case remember hula hops, yo-yos and CB radio? Drones too shall pass as a general public fad.

  • Joe

    I think the court did the correct thing, I can only imagine that this law would have required more staffing to satisfy some enforcement, how this law could have been enforced is beyond my imagination, only that it could be sparsely enforced with possible big fines to scare people into voluntarily conforming. As to using ultralight aircraft, the legal definition of an ultra light is 256 pounds, without fuel, they are designed with little in reserve lift over what an average pilot weighs, 200 lbs is well beyond what most ultralights could do, I think that an n number (registration)or not makes any difference as to what a individual persons intent is with that aircraft, noting that there are FAA regulations to flying over heavily attended stadiums at an altitude not less than 3 thousand feet or what ever the Notam states, so far there have been no terrorist uses of light general aviation in the U.S., yes there have been suicides that also targeted specific persons in a couple of federal tax buildings, but the only people that died were the perpetrators of said incidents. I think that forcing people in the hobby and use of drones commercial or otherwise was not wise, I do think that a person has the responsibility to insure the drone and any damage it might cause to structure or persons, but if a terrorist we’re going to use the drone for purposes of terror, he’s not likely to care about getting it registered.

  • mpthompson

    The development of the following counter measures tells the tail of the level of concern. Until the devices path and directions are entirely self contained and they are not dependent on GPS that is.

    The technology is already there. Visual odometry that is self-contained on the drone is already reaching the point that a drone can accurately and reliably navigate independent of GPS over fairly large distances. However, it is currently expensive and requires fairly high level of sophistication to implement on a drone. Using a $50 GPS receiver is much easier for now, but visual odometry will, as all things technical, become cheaper and easier to implement over time. Drone counter-measures will probably need to evolve into some sort of EMP type device that not just scrambles radio waves the drone receives, but will actually fry sensitive electronics that drones require to maintain flight.

  • mpthompson

    If we are talking about drones being used for terrorism purposes, they have nothing on self-driving vehicles. How much can a commercial off-the-shelf drone carry? A few ounces to 20 pounds at most? That’s peanuts compared to a self-driving vehicle that can be packed with 500 or more pounds of explosives.

    Regardless, I feel that fears are completely overblown. It doesn’t take a terribly sophisticated bomber to kill scores or even hundreds of people today without assistance from drones or self-driving vehicles. Technology opens up a few more avenues of terrorism, but it doesn’t fundamentally change the equation very much. Instead of trying to shutdown promising innovation which has potential to be abused, focusing on identifying the bad apples in society will remain the best venue for combating terrorism.

  • Cotour

    I do not agree with this statement:

    “Turning a drone into a weapon is no different than turning ANY aircraft into a weapon.”

    “any aircraft” would probably include a pilot to navigate and deliver the aircraft to what ever end. So while a drone and “any aircraft” both fly and can both be turned into a weapon the drone has some very special potential that any other aircraft does not.

    A drone is highly compact and maneuverable and is able to be programmed to deliver a payload to a very specific location and there needs to be no individual to personally pilot it. There is even potential to launch multiple swarms of (50, 100?) drones to converge at a specific location at a certain time. Its just a matter of programming expertise.

    Drones are not just “ANY aircraft” they represent a unique type of air delivery system. I again am surprised they have not been purposefully employed for nefarious reasons as of yet. Lets hope that remains the status quo.

  • pzatchok

    Myth Busters a has already turned a standard car into a “drone” by adding remote controlled manual systems to it.
    They wanted to test the myth of the JATO/RATO pack car launch.

    It would not take much more equipment to turn ANY manually flown aircraft into a manually remote controlled one.

    As for a non GPS guidance system just think about a cellphones camera for a visual guidance system. Someone pretty good might even be able to rig up an “APP” to fly the craft by cellphone signal. Just keep it under a thousand feet and the signal should be pretty good.

    If your remote system is kept to under 50 pounds then that leaves 150 for explosives of even nerve agents spread through a pre-compressed hand sprayer or two.
    A gyro copter and a hundred pounds of nerve agent flown over sports stadium a few times.

    The idea has even been used in the movies before the tech was this easy to get and use..

  • You seem unaware of the drone assassinations that the U.S. has pulled off in the Middle East as part of their operations there. See for example:

  • mpthompson

    Robert, who are you directing your comment to? I would be surprised any of your readers were not aware of US military drone strikes. However, a Global Hawk or other similar drone as used by the US military is much different beast than a 0.5 to 50 pound hobbyist level drone that the FAA was attempting to regulate through through registration. At the hobbyist level, the vast majority of drones are less than 5 pounds.

    Another thing about hobbyist level quadcopter-type drones is that they aren’t terribly different than the fixed wing RC airplanes that have been available since the 1930’s, or RC helicopters since the 1950’s. The largest RC aircraft have greater payload capacity and range than a quadcopter. They could easily carry many tens’s of pounds of explosives and the technology to teleoperate them by remote cameras has existed for at least 40 years or more, albeit at a much higher cost than current FPV hardware. The effort by the government to now regulate hobbyist drones seems like unnecessary overreach and I’m glad a court had the sense to slap their efforts down. As you indicate in your posting, it’s all about power.

  • Cotour

    Let me clarify the subject.

    Yes, there are plenty of model plane enthusiasts that have the skill and technology to build a custom out out of the box remote controlled flying device of varying degrees, a jet fighter to helicopters in many different sizes and capacities and pilot it through various means to a particular location at a particular time. Thats a given.

    My point here is that for something to be taken out of the box that already has a very high level of technology using GPS and computer programming that flys in a very unique way, from extreme controlled hovering to high speed attack, that can be coordinated with many, many other devices of the same out of the box nature, that can be made through programming to launch themselves and converge on a particular location at a specified time is unique. This is not your fathers RC model.

    My father used to fly model planes using an escapement type control system, this drone technology is exponentially more powerful and uniquely more capable than that and you have to admit has some very unique capability potentials for those who mean to do harm or worse. Like I also pointed out, I am very surprised that something like I have described has not already been employed.

  • PeterF

    When I was stationed at Holloman they were flying F-4 drones as targets. They were the ones with the orange tails. I always felt bad to see them take off knowing that they were destined to become a scattering of debris in the desert after having survived so much.

  • Cotour

    Let me further clarify:

    I am not talking about a $20 million dollar drone like the MQ-9 predetor drone:

    I am talking about something that can be acquired in one or more quantities through UPS for $500.00 to $2000.00 (?) dollars that out of the box has a kind of technology that has the potential to do “special” operations.

    “This version of the Typhoon H from YUNEEC employs Intel RealSense Technology for enhanced autonomously flying. This navigation aid maps the environment in 3D to help avoid obstacles and provide positional data when GPS is limited or unavailable. Additionally, the hexacopter hexacopter features the GCO3+ gimbal-stabilized, 4K camera with 12MP stills mode, making it a perfect choice for aerial imaging of all types. The Typhoon H’s hexa-rotor design offers better flight stability and more precise control compared to four-rotor systems – plus, it means failure of a single motor will not be fatal. The landing gear retracts in-flight, offering an unobstructed 360 degrees of shooting. Carbon fiber parts and folding motor arms reduce the Typhoon H’s weight and profile for easy transport – even to the remotest of locations.”

    I am certain that things like this device, and there are many many variations of them, terrifies the security / protection community. Both governmental and private. To me it is only a matter of time, just like a Nice type attack in America with a big truck. All you need is the nut / zealot with the determination to manifest his or her insanity.

    And I have to say, I do not like discussing such things in such detail but modern reality potentials are what they are.

  • wayne

    I have to quibble with your thought about “…all this is unique….”

    What I am sorta hearing you say (and I could be mistaken)… if something could be used for devious purposes, the presumption may be to regulate it.

    I would put forth that approach to regulation is backwards. Fortunately, this guy fought back, but he should never have been placed into a situation where he had to do so.

    The initial question at hand was whether the FAA had underlying authority to issue regulations on model aircraft.
    Fortunately, Congress had specifically exempted model aircraft in prior Legislation.
    But, post Commerce-Clause rulings all fully support the presumption that anything can be regulated, and that ship sailed a long time ago.

  • Cotour

    I understand well your point.

    (I am waiting for my next post which is being scrutinized because it contains a military drone spec sheet / article and a commercially available, off the shelf drone to be posted on this subject that further clarifies my position.)

    I think that government and private security concerns are very, very concerned about this particular kind of technology and its potential to very accurately deliver what ever, where ever, pretty much out of the box.

    I would think that the FAA did what they did in order to establish a starting point to somehow, FROM THEIR POINT OF VIEW, get some level of control over the potential. Unfortunately what will probably come of it as per usual is it will dial down the rights of all in pursuit of “safety”, just like the TSA.

    But, let there be one high jacking or explosive on a plane, or a successful, coordinated, out of the box drone attack, then all bets are off.

  • mpthompson: I was replying to Cotour.

  • Cotour

    To the Zman, I am well aware of the drone operations.

    Q: Do you not see my point about how paranoid the government and private security operations might be about such technologies?

  • wayne

    interesting vids.

    RC turbine jet F-16 scale 1:4

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