Tech group sues feds over drone registrations

Greg Nash

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is being sued over its rules that require drone users to pay a fee and register their devices with the federal government.

The lawsuit, filed by TechFreedom in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, argues that the drone registration rules put in place in December violate a federal law that prohibits the FAA from regulating recreational drones.

“Whether or or not requiring drone registration is a wise policy, the rules the FAA rushed out before Christmas are unlawful,” said Berin Szoka, President of TechFreedom.

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“They exceed the authority Congress has given the FAA," he continued. "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. That means the FAA could not fully consider the real-world complexities of regulating drones. Thus, the FAA’s rules could lead to a host of unintended consequences.”

The legal action follows an earlier lawsuit against the rules that was filed by a recreational drone user in Silver Spring, Md., who is also requesting that court overturn the drone rules on the grounds that they violate a statutory prohition on the FAA requiring registrations of the devices. 

The Department of Transportation has said drone users will have to register their devices by Friday in a new Web-based tracking system that opened on Dec. 21, 2015. The agency is imposing a $5 fee for registrations over the objections of drone advocates, but the FAA has said it is waived the charge for the first 30 days of the new requirement. 

Critics have been threatening to sue the FAA over the registration rules since they were first announced in December.

The Washington, D.C.-based Competitive Enterprise Institute has said 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 has defended the legality of the drone registration system, 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 recent statement provided to The Hill. "Congress has defined 'aircraft' to include [drones], regardless of whether they are operated by modelers and hobbyists."

The FAA has declined to comment to The Hill about lawsuits over its drone rules, saying it does not comment on pending litigation. 

The filing of the latest lawsuit was first reported by Forbes magazine.

-This story was updated with new information 1:16 p.m.