FAA battles for control of drones

By Rick Rys

Industry Trends

On May 19, 2017, a Federal Appeals Court found drone registration unlawful for model aircraft. This is a blow to the FAA, which had been attempting to register all drones. The ruling is the result of a case brought by John Taylor, a recreational drone operator and attorney from Maryland. In his suit, Taylor claimed that the registration program went against Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which states that the FAA “may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft.” The FAA wanted to require a $5.00 registration fee and the publication of personal contact information, but this requirement is now thrown out for model aircraft. The ruling does not impact Part 107, or registration for commercial drones.

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The FAA is considering its options. The agency could try to get Congress involved and ask that the statute prohibiting rulemaking concerning model aircraft be revised. Alternatives to registration include working with manufacturers on flight education, but FAA would like to have more direct control.

Meanwhile the recent National Defense Authorization Act proposes to give the government the ability to hack into drone communications to take them down should they be deemed a threat. However, this statute raises privacy concerns, and it will take some new laws before the government can seize control of someone’s drone.

Seemingly in response to this, the leading drone manufacturer, in May DJI rolled out a new application activation process for all international drone customers. This new step ensures you will use firmware with the correct set of geospatial information and flight functions for your aircraft, as determined by your geographical location and user profile. These functions prevent the drones from entering restricted areas, although some clever drone operators have managed to defeat this already with aluminum foil covers over the GPS sensors.

There is a continuing challenge for regulators that seek a safe and efficient airspace that accommodates the legitimate interests of commercial drone operation.

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