Drone Update: DC Circuit Court Invalidates FAA's Registration Rule

On Friday, May 19, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit invalidated the “Registration Rule,” a mandate crafted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which required recreational drone-users to register their small, unmanned drones with the FAA. The mandate began in late 2015 with the FAA citing security and privacy concerns as the reasoning behind the new rule. However, the mandate posed a direct conflict with a 2012 statute passed by Congress, the FAA Modernization & Reform Act, which prevented the FAA from regulating model aircrafts. The D.C. Circuit ultimately ruled that the FAA did not have the authority to require recreational drone-users to register their drones due to the 2012 statute; however, registration requirements are still in place for commercial drone-users, such as Amazon.  

With the FAA Modernization and Reform Act explicitly barring the FAA from regulating model aircrafts, it is unlikely a similar regulation will soon replace the “Registration Rule,” absent the statute being changed or repealed.

What does this mean for farmers?

With technology on the rise in the agricultural industry, farmers can now use drones for a number of things: mapping and surveying, soil analysis, and even spraying crops. For a farmer who wishes to use a small, unmanned drone in his farming practice, this case means that registration may not be required. Farmers can now operate their drones--provided they are considered hobby, model aircrafts--without being registered by the FAA and without having to pay the accompanying fees for the registration. 

This case means no change for drones used for commercial purposes, as the registration requirements have only been annulled in regard to recreational drone-users of model aircrafts, specifically addressing small, unmanned drones.   

Drone use on many farms continues to fall into a gray area between recreational and commercial use. Thus, in spite of this case, the safest route is to continue to register your ag drone with the FAA. 

This is a guest blog post by Cassee Layne, summer law clerk at Janzen Agricultural Law LLC. 

This post should not be construed as legal advice.  If you have questions concerning proper drone registration and use, please contact an attorney.