A federal appeals court shoots down the FAA’s drone registry requirement

The FAA’s drone database hit a major snag this week, courtesy of a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling. The D.C.-based court sided with drone hobbyist John Taylor, who argued that the Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t have jurisdiction over what the law classifies as model aircraft.

“Taylor does not think that the FAA had the statutory authority to issue the Registration Rule and require him to register,” Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote in the statement. “Taylor is right.”

The court argued that the drone registration database violates 2012’s FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which states that the body, “may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft.”

The database was proposed in 2015 to addressing growing drone ownership in the U.S., which has brought with it a number of privacy and safety concerns in the government. The FAA will likely appeal the decision – or take another approach toward setting up a similar system.

“We are carefully reviewing the U.S. Court of Appeals decision as it relates to drone registrations,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “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 Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International is similarly disappointed in the ruling. A rep from the organization provided TechCrunch with a comment from its CEO, Brian Wynne, stating,

AUVSI is disappointed with the decision today by the U.S. Court of Appeals to reject the FAA’s rule for registering recreational unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). A UAS registration system is important to promote accountability and responsibility by users of the national airspace, and helps create a culture of safety that deters careless and reckless behavior. We plan to work with Congress on a legislative solution that will ensure continued accountability across the entire aviation community, both manned and unmanned.

Drone sales have been growing at an impressive rate in the U.S. According to NPD, they effectively doubled between February 2016 and 2017 in the States. Within the first year of the rule, 550,000 drones were registered, an act that carries a $5 fee and potential criminal charges for non-compliance.

The ruling is being considered a victory for hobbyists themselves, who have balked at the manner of limitations these sorts of regulations would impose. But some drone makers, like DJI, which is expected to unveil something big (or small, rather) next week, is actually on the FAA’s side on this one.

“The FAA’s innovative approach to drone registration was very reasonable, and registration provides for accountability and education to drone pilots,” the company’s VP of Policy & Legal Affairs Brendan Schulman said in a statement offered to TechCrunch. “I expect the legal issue that impedes this program will be addressed by cooperative work between the industry and policymakers.”