The long and tortured path to mandatory registration of all hobby aircraft appears finally to be at an end. After a seven month hiatus, the law is changing once again, and the registration requirement is being reinstated.
As most of you will remember, the FAA unexpectedly issued regulations on an emergency basis just before Christmas 2015 that required all hobby aircraft under .55 pounds to be registered with the FAA. This regulation was immediately challenged in the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on the grounds that it violated Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, also known as the Special Rule for Model Aircraft. That Section provides that the FAA “may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft.”
On May 19, 2017, the D.C. Circuit overturned the registration requirement, finding that, on its face, it was a rule “regarding a model aircraft,” and that the FAA had no authority to issue it. In overturning the registration rule, the D.C. Circuit also noted that:
Congress is of course always free to repeal or amend its 2012 prohibition on FAA rules regarding model aircraft. Perhaps Congress should do so. Perhaps not. In any event, we must follow the statute as written.
Congress has not acted to repeal the Special Rule for Model Aircraft. It has, however, added Section 1092 to the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that reinstates the model aircraft registration regulations. Specifically, the Act provides:
(d) Restoration Of Rules For Registration And Marking Of Unmanned Aircraft—The rules adopted by the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration in the matter of registration and marking requirements for small unmanned aircraft (FAA-2015-7396; published on December 16, 2015) that were vacated by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Taylor v. Huerta (No. 15-1495; decided on May 19, 2017) shall be restored to effect on the date of enactment of this Act.
With President Trump’s signature yesterday, the bill becomes law just in time for Christmas. Hopefully, when Santa delivers all the new model aircraft to hobbyists, he will remember to drop off some registration forms as well.