Acquisition Global Viewpoint – May 2017

Court Slaps Down FAA Drone Rules

The FAA was figuratively told to pound sand last Friday when U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in favor of drone hobbyist John Taylor. Said Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh, “Taylor does not think that the FAA had the statutory authority to issue the Registration Rule and require him to register. Taylor is right.”

The court ruled that the FAA’s drone registration database violates 2012’s FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which states that the body, “may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft.”

The sky is falling

The FAA registration requirement was first implemented back in December, 2015. The rules meant that all drone owners had to pay a $5 fee and register their name, home address, and e-mail address at an FAA-approved website. Many did not realize that the registration rules applied to not just quadcopters, drones and other versions of helicopters. The FAA rule required every type of hobby aircraft and owner to be registered.

For hobby aircraft pilots like me, who only fly fixed wing aircraft, that meant we also had to give another government agency more information about ourselves.

Said Taylor in an interview with MarketWatch, "As of today, no American has been seriously injured by hobby drones. They may get cuts or bruises, but look at ATVs and watercraft, where dozens are killed every year. It's all a reaction to new technology. People are afraid of drones because they’re something new."

Some key players in the drone industry were not pleased with the Court’s ruling.

“The FAA’s innovative approach to drone registration was very reasonable, and registration provides for accountability and education to drone pilots,” said DJI’s VP of Policy & Legal Affairs Brendan Schulman to TechCrunch. “I expect the legal issue that impedes this program will be addressed by cooperative work between the industry and policymakers.”

The ever present authorities just want to know...

The ever present authorities just want to know...

Readers may recall The Broadcast Bridge has published multiple articles on the use and regulations about drones/UAVs. One article addressed DJI’s comments in support of FAA regulations where the company suggested a new technology as a solution.

In the article, Government Wants To Spy On Drones we discuss DJI’s white paper, which had a long list of suggested regulations. The primary suggestion was one that would require a unique digital ID for every aircraft. As a maker of drones, DJI would be well-placed to develop (and sell) such technology.

However, the DJI white paper ignores serious privacy issues. Any digital tag type of drone ID system carries some risk to businesses. Armed with an ID receiver and access to a database of registrations, even your competition might be looking over your shoulder.

Example privacy issues might include:

  • An alternative energy company scouting a new wind farm location
  • A teenager in the back yard operating a drone for a science project
  • An insurance adjuster inspecting storm-damaged property for possible fraudulent claims
  • An investigative journalist
  • Drone service companies wanting to keep their operations private
  • A TV broadcaster working a breaking story

DJI admits that any broadcast IDs also could reveal the personal information of the owner or operator, but claims only law enforcement would be able to, “investigate complaints of unlawful or dangerous conduct.” Privacy and personal safety require an identification system that protects operator business interests while disclosing that information to law enforcement agencies, says DJI.

This image, a direct rip-off from Alfred Hitchcock’s epic classic of “The Birds”, symbolizes how some, especially regulators, view the hobbyist drone phenomena.

This image, a direct rip-off from Alfred Hitchcock’s epic classic of “The Birds”, symbolizes how some, especially regulators, view the hobbyist drone phenomena.

Tougher regulations coming

AUVSI President and CEO Brian Wynne said, “AUVSI is disappointed with the decision today by the U.S. Court of Appeals to reject the FAA’s rule for registering recreational unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). A UAS registration system is important to promote accountability and responsibility by users of the national airspace, and helps create a culture of safety that deters careless and reckless behavior. We plan to work with Congress on a legislative solution that will ensure continued accountability across the entire aviation community, both manned and unmanned.”

The FAA has seven days to appeal the verdict before the Court’s ruling becomes effective. The FAA said, "We are carefully reviewing the US Court of Appeals decision as it relates to drone registrations. The FAA put registration and operational regulations in place to ensure that drones are operated in a way that is safe and does not pose security and privacy threats. We are in the process of considering our options and response to the decision."

Prior to Friday's ruling, the FAA told the appeals court that if the court agreed with John Taylor and nullified the registration requirement, "it would threaten the safety of the national airspace system.

So far, The sky is falling, chant has proven false. And while I can laugh at the Chicken Little symbolism, the deep-pocketed companies and associations will likely see that new set of regulations thump the wishes of hobbyists like John Taylor.

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