At the Intersection of Technology, Law, and Business
May 23, 2017 - Artificial Intelligence + Robotics

A Simple Case of Statutory Interpretation: The FAA Lacks Authority to Require Model Aircraft Operators to Register

A Simple Case of Statutory Interpretation: The FAA Lacks Authority to Require Model Aircraft Operators to Register

On May 19, 2017, a federal appellate court struck down part of the FAA’s attempt to safely monitor and integrate small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) into the national airspace. The D.C. Circuit found that the FAA’s Registration Rule, which was promulgated in December 2015 and subject to an expedited rulemaking process, directly conflicted with the FAA’s enabling statute, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (the “2012 Act”).

Before the Registration Rule, model aircraft flown for hobby or recreation were not required to register. Despite conflicting with the 2012 Act, the FAA’s Registration Rule applied equally to both commercial and hobbyist operators.  The Registration Rule was therefore immediately challenged by model aircraft pilots.

The D.C. Circuit’s decision was unequivocal: “Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act prohibits the FAA from promulgating ‘any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft.’”

The FAA is considering its options; we believe it may be more fruitful for the FAA to seek assistance from Congress than to seek certiorari from the Supreme Court. In the meantime, model aircraft operators need not comply with the Registration Rule.

Read the full Client Alert.