On May 19, 2017, the District of Columbia Circuit Court (the “D.C. Circuit Court”) issued a decision in Taylor v. Huerta, striking down a 2015 Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) Registration Rule (requiring owners of unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”) weighing between 0.55–55 lbs. to pay a $5 fee and register their UAS with FAA) to the extent that it applies to model aircraft. In its published opinion, the D.C. Circuit Court ultimately held that FAA’s Registration Rule clearly conflicts with Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which expressly prohibits FAA from promulgating and enforcing rules and regulations with respect to model aircraft.
Following the D.C. Circuit Court decision, recreational UAS and other model aircraft operators will no longer be required to register their UAS under the Registration Rule. Importantly, operators of recreational UAS must still comply with the guidance located in Advisory Circular 91-57A. In addition, UAS owners should also note that commercial operators will continue to be required to comply with both the Registration Rule and the regulations located in Part 107 of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations or face strict civil and criminal penalties.
To date, FAA has not indicated whether it will challenge the decision of the D.C. Circuit Court or whether it will seek congressional amendment of Section 336. To that end, FAA has placed the following statement on its UAS homepage: “We are carefully reviewing the U.S. Court of Appeals decision (PDF) as it relates to drone registrations. We are in the process of considering our response to the decision as well as any registration implications for non-commercial users. Please check this website regularly for further updates and instructions.”