Those who purchase a drone in the U.S. for non-commercial purposes will no longer have to register it with the Federal Aviation Administration, a federal court in Washington D.C. has ruled.
Since 2015, non-commercial drone operators have been required to register their drones with the FAA under its drone registration rules, according to Recode. John Taylor, a model aircraft hobbyist, filed a lawsuit against the FAA in January 2016 to stop the requirement.
The federal court found that such a requirement violates a law passed by Congress in 2012 -- the FAA Modernization and Reform Act -- prohibiting the FAA from passing rules that affect the operation of model aircraft, which applies to non-commercial hobbyist drone operators.
Going forward, if a drone is purchased for entertainment purposes, registering with the FAA will not be required; however, should the drone be used for commercial purposes, registration will still be required.
The court's ruling is not being welcomed by all in the drone industry.
"The FAA's innovative approach to drone registration was very reasonable, and registration provides for accountability and education to drone pilots," DJI’s head of policy, Brendan Schulman said in an email to Recode. "I expect the legal issue that impedes this program will be addressed by cooperative work between the industry and policymakers."
While it is unknown whether the FAA will appeal the court's decision, the law that the court found it to be in violation of expires in September 2017. That makes it possible for Congress to clarify the FAA's authority to pass laws that pertain to model aircraft, including drones.
Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, has said that he plans to introduce a bill soon that will address FAA modernization, Executive Director of the Small UAV Coalition Michael Drobac told Recode.
"The goal of the registration rule was to assist law enforcement and others to enforce the law against unauthorized drone flights, and to educate hobbyists that a drone is not just a toy and operators need to follow the rules," Lisa Ellman, attorney with law firm Hogan Lovells and specialist on drone regulation, explained. "These are worthy goals, so if this ruling stands it wouldn't surprise us to see a legislative response here."
FAA Director Michael Huerta said in March that the agency plans to take on drone regulations in order to create a way for unmanned aircraft to be remotely identified. That action will help law enforcement know who is flying a drone when the pilot is not visible.
As of March, over 100,000 drone hobbyists had registered with the FAA since the start of the year, according to Engadget. That brought the total of drones being used for non-commercial purposes in the U.S. to over 770,000.
By 2021, the FAA estimates that 3.55 million drones will be in use in the U.S.