The United States government’s ability to police hobbyist drone use was upheld by an appellate court last week. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected arguments by John Taylor, a drone hobbyist, who successfully overturned the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) system for registering unmanned aerial systems (UAS or drones) last year. Judge Merrick Garland said, “Because the rule is within the agency’s statutory authority and is neither arbitrary nor capricious, the petition for review is denied.” This decision stems from Congress’ passage of a law in 2012 that gave the FAA authority over drones while also exempting model aircraft flown by hobbyists who already followed certain safety rules instituted by a “nationwide community-based organization.” That led to Taylor’s claim that the FAA can’t set regulations over drone flights by hobbyists. Taylor used the 2012 law to argue successfully that the FAA’s drone registration system was not legal; however, Congress reinstated the registry months later.
Now, this new ruling is a win in the eyes of many companies engaged in the UAS industry that have repeatedly urged regulators to impose additional standards on drone hobbyists’ operations so those companies can more safely implement autonomous delivery systems that are currently being developed. This ruling also supports the FAA’s plan to release a rule that will allow flights over people while also requiring most or all drones to identify themselves with radio beacons.