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A three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously declared the Federal Aviation Administration’s recreational drone-owners’ registry to be “unlawful as applied to model aircraft” on Friday. As a result, hobby drone fliers across the nation no longer face the specter of $277,500 in civil and criminal fines, as well as jail time, merely for failing to identify themselves to the FAA.
In late 2015, the FAA for the first time made the decision to subject recreational drone fliers to mandatory registration. Beginning on Dec. 21—just days before Christmas—anyone who owned a drone weighing more than 0.55 pounds at takeoff (helpfully, the FAA indicated this was the equivalent of two sticks of butter) would be required to register themselves pursuant to a statute authorizing the registration of aircraft. To comply, hobbyists had to provide regulators with detailed personal information and pay a $5 registration fee.
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Flying a drone even a single inch above one’s own backyard before registering was deemed a federal felony.
At the time, the agency noted that surging demand for small quadcopters and other models of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) necessitated quick action. Taking advantage of the “good cause” exemption under the Administrative Procedure Act, the FAA bypassed the normal notice and comment process and pushed the registration rule into effect in a mere two months.
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