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Critics threaten lawsuit over drone registration rules

Critics threaten lawsuit over drone registration rules
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Critics are threatening to sue the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over its new requirement that drone users pay a fee and register their devices with the federal government. 

The Washington, D.C.-based Competitive Enterprise Institute said Monday the FAA violated federal requirements for allowing public comments on the drone registration proposal, which usually lasts for a period of 30 to 60 days. 

The FAA formed a task force of aviation industry representatives in October to weigh in on the drone registration requirements, which were announced on Monday. The agency said the task force was "composed of 25 to 30 diverse representatives from the [drone] and manned aviation industries, the federal government, and other stakeholders." 

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The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) said the task force was a not a proper substituted for the federal government's public comment rules for pending legislation, however. 

"The FAA's claim that complying with notice and comment requirements for small drone registration regulation is 'impracticable and contrary to the public interest,' so that it can therefore ignore them, is as predictable as it is absurd," CEI transportation policy expert Marc Scribner said in a statement. "In issuing this unlawful interim final rule, [Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony FoxxFeds order DC Metro to take new safety actions Emanuel flips the bird when asked about 2020 Feds push for more transparency over in-flight phone calls MORE] and [FAA Administrator Michael Huerta] are practically demanding litigation." 

Transportation Department officials have said they are moving quickly to launch the registration system for drones ahead of the holiday season because sales of the devices are expected to be brisk this year. 

“We expect hundreds of thousands of model unmanned aircraft will be purchased this holiday season,” Huerta said in a statement when the rules were announced on Monday morning.

“Registration gives us the opportunity to educate these new airspace users before they fly so they know the airspace rules and understand they are accountable to the public for flying responsibly," he continued. 

The CEI's Scribner has expressed prior concerns with the legality of the FAA's effort to require drone users to register their devices. 

"While we appreciate the fact that the task force apparently recognized that the Department of Transportation does not have the authority to require point-of-sale registration, we are still disturbed by the way in which the Department is aiming to implement the rule," he said in a statement last month as the FAA was finalizing the drone registration requirements. 

"However, as we noted in our November 6 comments in response to the task force’s formation, mere registration will not mitigate aviation safety risks potentially posed by drones," he continued. "Yet, for the FAA to dispense with notice-and-comment requirements, it will need to show proceeding through the normal rulemaking procedure will endanger public safety. This makes the forthcoming FAA interim final rule unlawful and will almost certainly result in litigation." 

Scribner added "further, in requiring that all drones over 250 grams—which includes many harmless toys—the FAA will also be violating Congress’s 2012 prohibition on the regulation of hobbyist small drone use."

"Congress prohibited the FAA from regulating model aircraft in 2012’s FAA reauthorization," he said.

The FAA defended the legality of the drone registration system on Monday afternoon, saying it has authority to regulate all "aircrafts" that are flown in the U.S. 

"By statute all aircraft are required to register," the agency said in a statement that provided to The Hill.

"Congress has defined 'aircraft' to include [drones], regardless of whether they are operated by modelers and hobbyists," the agency continued.

-This post was updated with new information at 3:53 p.m.