[Updated Jan 2018] Drone Registry Appeal-FAA’s Drone Registration is Against the Law

Drone registry appeal finds the FAA has no authority to regulate hobby drones.

In a ruling last month, a Federal appeals court in Washington D.C. struck down the FAA’s controversial drone registration.

The drone registry has been in place since December 2016 and required owners of hobby drones weighing more than a measly half a pound, to register them with the FAA or risk fierce penalties.

Read more about the registry and what’s still required for commercial pilots, here.

The registry was free for the first few months, after that it cost $5 and has to renew every 3 years. It also assigned a registration number to each pilot and required the number to be permanently attached to your aircraft.

As of March 15 2017 approximately 770,000 people have registered, according to the FAA.

But it Seems that the Drone Registry Has Come to an End.

On Friday May 14th, 2017 a the appeals court ruled that the FAA’s rule was in violation of a bill passed by congress in 2012, signed into law by President Obama…and honestly we couldn’t agree more.


Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

The section clearly prohibits the FAA “from promulgating any rule or regulation regarding model aircraft”.

It also defines model aircraft to be any unmanned aircraft that meets 3 criteria…it’s capable of sustained flight, is flown within visual line of sight and flown for hobby or recreational purposes.

John A. Taylor, a fellow drone enthusiast, filed a petition to challenge the FAA over its rule in Federal court citing section 336 of the 2012 law. The petition was filed in 2015, the same year the registry went into effect.

The appeals court completely sided with Mr. Taylor and his challenge.

In his opinion for the court, Judge Kavanaugh made it very clear that the FAA’s registration rule was unlawful.

He said the registry “directly violates a clear statutory prohibition” and that the 2012 law passed by congress explicitly prohibits the FAA “from promulgating any rule or regulation regarding model aircraft.”

Later in the ruling, stated again…”The FAA’s Registration Rule violates Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act.”

And finally…“The Registration Rule is unlawful as applied to model aircraft.”  It can’t get any more direct than that!

A total defeat delivered to the FAA and their hobby drone registration. The only way the FAA can get the power back to regulate the hobby drone/aircraft industry is if Congress changes the law and gives it to them.

January 2018 Update:  And that’s exactly what they did in December 2017 with the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act.  Read more about it below.

The FAA Released a Statement About the Ruling

“We are carefully reviewing the U.S. Court of Appeals decision as it relates to drone registrations. 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. We are in the process of considering our options and response to the decision.”

The Department of Justice could appeal the decision, but it would have to take the case in front of the Supreme Court.  Given the court’s current caseload, there’s no guarantee for the case anytime soon.

So What Does the Drone Registry Appeal Mean for all of Us Drone Hobbyists Out There?

Well, clearly for those who have not registered yet, or just got your first drone, there is no longer a requirement to register per the court.

But what about those who have already registered their drone(s)? Certainly we would just let the registration expire when the 3 years is up.

But the info would still be out there.

[This section was updated on 7/17/2017]

Thankfully the FAA is offering a full refund to those who paid the drone registration fee.

I know what you’re thinking…it’s only $5.

But it’s the principle that matters so much more!

The FAA is also offering to expunge your information from their database.  Since, you know, they weren’t allowed to collect it in the first place.

All you have to do is fill out the form located here, and mail it in.  Of course you’ll have to provide your bank info, if you want the $5 refund for your unlawful drone registration.

Unmanned hobby aircraft is continuing to explode in popularity.  Technology is becoming more advanced.  Capabilities of drones are increasing and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Only time will tell if the government will decide to step in again.  So, at least for now, enjoy your registration free flying!

January 2018 Update

Well that didn’t last long, did it?  If you haven’t heard, the FAA’s drone registry has been restored.  On December 12, 2017 congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act which quietly reinstated the registry.

And this time, it’s legal since the new law supersedes the previous one passed back in 2012.  Sadly, there’s no arguing this one.  It looks like the registry is here to stay this time.

I had just gotten around to sending in my expungement request at the beginning of December, before the new law was passed.  I received the following letter from the FAA…

FAA's denial letter of a request to expunge drone registry info

As you can tell from the letter, all previous registrations are still valid.  If you got right on it and sent in an expongement request that was granted, you’ll have to register again.  At least the registration process remains the same.

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