Federal Court Dismisses Lawsuit Against Drone Regulations

Published April 19, 2016

A Maryland man’s legal battle with the federal government over regulations requiring all owners of unmanned aircraft systems and other flying toys to file paperwork was dismissed by a federal court.

In December 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) enacted regulations requiring all unmanned aircraft systems, commonly referred to as drones, to be registered with the government. Drone owners are also required to mark their flying craft with a unique identification number assigned to them by FAA.

TechFreedom, a nonpartisan public policy think tank focusing on technological issues, filed an amicus curiae brief defending the Maryland man who brought suit, John Taylor. In April, FAA lawyers convinced the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to dismiss the case, arguing TechFreedom and Taylor had missed the deadline to request a judicial review of the regulation. As a result of the court’s decision, Taylor and all other U.S. drone owners will continue to be required to obey the FAA regulations.

No ‘Cost-Benefit Analysis’

Ryan Hagemann, a policy analyst on issues related to technology and civil liberties for the Niskanen Center, says FAA failed to follow federal government rulemaking procedures when crafting its drone regulations.

“The real issue with the registration of drones is the manner in which the FAA conducted the rulemaking late [in 2015],” Hagemann said. “Specifically, the FAA failed to apply an appropriate cost-benefit analysis of the rule’s potential economic impact.”

Rushing Regulations

Hagemann says FAA improperly cut corners in the rulemaking process because it overestimated the need for the rules.

“Additionally, there were concerns associated with the agency’s failure to abide by the Administrative Procedure Act in its rush to finalize these rules by the holiday season,” Hagemann said. “They operated under the assumption that more drones would be sold for recreational purposes than actually were, and [it] clearly wanted to get rules on the books before Christmas time.”

‘Light-Touch Regulations’

Eli Dourado, a research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and director of the Technology Policy Program, says the regulations are unnecessarily restrictive.

“The FAA has responsibility for keeping air transportation safe, and there are some minimal, light-touch regulations that could do that without impeding innovation,” Dourado said. “For example, it is good that the FAA prohibits drones from flying near airports, where they might collide with passenger jets during takeoff and landing, but the agency goes too far when it restricts flight within a full five miles of airports, as it currently does. Flying a drone at low altitude a couple miles away from an airport seems perfectly safe.”

Dourado says FAA should focus on making rules that actually protect people.

“The focus should be on narrowly tailored rules that do the most to keep us safe while otherwise promoting maximum innovation,” Dourado said.

Matt Hurley ([email protected]) writes from Cincinnati, Ohio.