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jacinta lluch valero / Flickr (CC by 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman

Libertarian tech group sues FAA over private drone registration

The issue lies with how quickly the government imposed the rules.


Dell Cameron


A prominent Washington, D.C.-based technology group sued the Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday over its recently imposed recreational drone regulations.

TechFreedom, a libertarian-leaning think tank, claims the FAA acted illegally by requiring pilots of recreational drones, also known as small unmanned aerial systems (UAS), to register with the federal government.

According to the lawsuit, the issue lies with the FAA’s failure to observe notice-and-comment procedures before adopting the new rules. It also claims the FAA exceeded its authority by requiring the registration of  “persons who own model aircraft—not of the aircraft themselves.”

The FAA does not require drone owners to register their drones, per se. Rather, an owner receives a unique identification number upon registration, which he or she must affix to any operating drone that exceeds 250 grams (0.55 pounds). 

According to Berin Szoka, TechFreedom’s president, the issue isn’t so much the FAA’s rules as it is the way they were imposed. Szoka claims they went into effect without the FAA fully considering “the real-world complexities” of drone regulation.

Until Jan. 20, drone operators could register without paying a fee. Now it’s $5, and the registration expires in three years time. During the free-registration period, more than 300,000 people signed up, the agency said. The compulsory registration date for new drone owners has come and gone, but anyone operating a drone prior to Dec. 21, 2015, has until Friday to register.

According to the FAA website, anyone flying a recreational drone (a “small UAS”) without a registration faces civil penalties up to $27,500. Criminal penalties, if you were to fly an unregistered drone into restricted airspace, for instance, can include fines of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.

“Whether or or not requiring drone registration is a wise policy, the rules the FAA rushed out before Christmas are unlawful,” Szoka said in a statement. “They exceed the authority Congress has given the FAA. Moreover, the agency illegally bypassed the most basic transparency requirement in administrative law: that it provide an opportunity for the affected public to comment on its regulations.”

Szoka’s policy counsel, Tom Struble, said the D.C. Circuit court should dismiss the FAA’s interim rules, and force it “back to the drawing board.”

“The notice-and-comment rulemaking process serves an important role in ensuring that regulation doesn’t do more harm than good,” Strubble said. “It ensures that the agency is exposed to viewpoints from all the relevant stakeholders, and it forces the agency to weigh competing considerations before issuing a rule.”

The TechFreedom lawsuit is the second suit filed against the FAA over its drone rules. In January, an attorney from Maryland filed a similar suit, which experts believe is likely to succeed.

The FAA did not respond to a request for comment.

Read TechFreedom v. FAA below:

Photo via jacinta lluch valero/Flickr (CC by 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman

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