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U.S. court strikes down FAA’s hobby drone registration rule (sfgate.com)
55 points by ojbyrne 212 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 55 comments



This was a given from the moment the ink dried on the regulation - it's a clear violation of the actual law that gives the FCC it's powers and authority.

It may or may not be a good idea for the legislature to change those laws so that the FCC (or another agency) can regulate hobby drones and model aircraft, but unless and until that happens this is dead in the water.


> This was a given from the moment the ink dried on the regulation - it's a clear violation of the actual law that gives the FCC it's powers and authority.

Had the FCC been the agency involved, I'd agree that this would be a clear and obvious violation.


To be clear for those that might miss it. It's the FAA that was regulating drones over 0.55 pounds, not the FCC.


Somehow they govern mobile phone use aboard airplanes, however...


Yes, because mobile phones are communication devices and use regulated RF spectrum.

The FAA is free to (and does) make their own additional regulations concerning mobile phone use on aircraft.


Why don't they "regulate" mobile phone use while driving? On the subway? At the grocery store? In the waiting room at the doctor's office?

Because all of that would be outside the scope of the statutes? Precisely. So is the regulation of mobile phone use while in flight.


> it's a clear violation of the actual law that gives the FAA it's powers and authority

Please cite the relevant law; few of us here are experts on the matter, and it's far from being clear that forcing people to register is a violation of anything.

I'd have to register an aircraft if I wanted to fly it in most cases, and I'd have to register myself (get a pilot's license) - so it is not clear that FAA's authority ends when the aircraft is small and its pilot is on the ground.


>I'd have to register an aircraft if I wanted to fly it in most cases, and I'd have to register myself (get a pilot's license)

There are entire classes of aircraft (ultra-lights most prominently) that require no license or registration to fly.

The relevant law here comes from The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which prevented the FAA from imposing any new regulations on model aircrafts. The FAA classifies drones as model aircrafts, ergo they can't make you register them.

The 2015 rule requiring registration was clear overreach by the FAA, made even more ridiculous because it was labeled an "emergency action"


Thanks! The article did mention the Act of 2012, but what was missing was the classification of drones as model aircraft.

The question is, what is a "drone"? A drone is synonymous with UAS, and unmanned aircraft system, to the FAA. Clearly, UAS the size of Predator are not "model aircraft".

Are the drones above 0.5KG still classified as model aircraft? What's to stop FAA to re-classify any UAS as NOT model aircraft?


I am not a lawyer, but there is not a lot of wiggle room for the FAA to somehow define drones differently. The definitions are pretty clearly spelled out for all but the most obtuse interpretations - drones, when flown by hobbyists in visual line of sight, are a type of model aircraft. Now, the vlos clause can be a bit problematic for fpv fliers, but otherwise it's pretty ironclad. Here is the actual text from the law defining model aircraft:

MODEL AIRCRAFT DEFINED.—In this section, the term ‘‘model aircraft’’ means an unmanned aircraft that is— (1) capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere; (2) flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and (3) flown for hobby or recreational purposes.

... and lest anyone think there is any wiggle room in defining an unmanned aircraft - from a few pages earlier:

UNMANNED AIRCRAFT.—The term ‘‘unmanned aircraft’’ means an aircraft that is operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft.


Presumably, if people were flying model aircrafts/ultra-lights with the frequency with which drones are being flown, the Reform Act 2012 would be retooled? This is all a little confusing.


>it's a clear violation of the actual law that gives the FCC

Your typo has confused the hell out of people here, you might want to replace it with FAA unless you really did mean FCC :)


So is the FAA required to return money given to them for the registration?

And what happens to the registration database?


Still stuck at 400ft AGL despite legal rulings that private property extends upwards of 500 feet.


Don't know where you got this impression, but no it doesn't. At least in relation to aviation regulations anyway. The FAA has the authority to regulate flight from the surface.


Guidelines established in AC 91-57. These set initial guidelines due to manned aircraft being restricted to 500 feet AGL. You aren't reliably telling 500 feet straight up, so a good 100 feet of leeway/buffer zone is helpful. On top of that, AMA has a 3 mile (for airports)/400' safety recommendation.


How far does it currently extend?

Do you know what their basis was for 400ft ceiling was?


I recall that the lower limit for airplanes is 500 feet above ground level, so that makes for 100 feet of vertical separation.


Woo hoo!

One less thing to worry about being a "criminal" regarding.

Thanks Donald. Less regulation is sometimes better.


Are you attempting to satirize Trump supporters and their lack of attention to relevant detail? HN doesn't seem to like satire, which is why I think you are getting voted down.

On the off chance it was not satire. Trump had noting to do with this. It was struck down by a court, by a judge appointed long before Trump was President, in response to a lawsuit filed long before Trump was President, using as justification a law that was signed by Obama.


[flagged]


We need you to stop posting unsubstantive ideological comments here, like we've already asked. We ban accounts that won't.


I was responding to a question the grandparent post requested and did so in a reasonable and factual manner. What specifically in my response do you object to? Also since you are claiming to represent ycombinator, please state your specific role and authority to speak for them as an official representative. Thank you.


Wonderful, I hope that they move toward more durable solutions to the problem. The registration solution is susceptible to unidentified homebuilt drones and deliberate interference with other aircraft. We need to build resilient defences against these things so that when organized criminals and terrorists use them, we aren't left wondering why they didn't register.

The Navy has microwave laser weapons and similar which might be useful, it'd be a bit pricey, but a drop in the bucket of any major airport. And unlike registration, that actually solves (some) of the problem.


Funny you should say that. Amount of terrorism in th united states and the number of people killed by it fortunately doesnt support your claim.


Forget that they mentioned terrorism, the claim is still valid, e.g.

We need a way to enforce any proposed drone regulation, so that when a stupid teenager drops a malfunctioning drone on your head from 300ft, you are not left wondering why they didn't register.


In this litiguous country, that teenager is probably up for some hefty lawsuit anyway.


That's the OP's point: in a situation where you might want to have the drone registered, the operator is probably breaking some other laws, and would be unlikely to have their drone registered.

That is, the registration is not helpful, and so should not be implemented in the form proposed by the FAA.


No, we don't.

Your laws won't protect a stupid teenager from dropping a malfunctioning drone on your head.

Unless you meant technical enforcement, which that less stupid teenager can hack?


I think you misunderstood me. I am saying the same thing you are saying - that having laws on the book won't prevent a bad thing from happening.

It's a general principle that laws that can't be enforced should not be introduced.

On the other thing, we definitely do want to prevent certain bad things (malicious or accidentally wrongful) use of drones from happening. We do need to have a legal framework which would allow us to reduce the rate of such incidents - both by active intervention and by providing negative incentives to the wrongdoers.

Registration does not accomplish this, nor would any law of the form "this is not allowed".

As for technical enforcement - possibly yes, if it prevents a large percentage of undesired incidents. For instance, requiring GPS-enabled drones to avoid airports could alleviate a lot of concerns, and won't be harmful to the law-abiding consumer.


You're right, I did misunderstand you. Thanks for clarifying.


I expect that eventually we'll have a system where you tell your drone where to go and it then files a flight plan with the FAA electronically. The FAA compares it with all the other drone flight plans and various right-of-way and noise mitigation rules and sends back a route. Hobbyist (unregistered) drones could in theory file a flight plan anonymously if FAA policy allows that. Anonymous drones might have some restrictions.

Any drone flying in a city or near an airport without a flight plan is a nuisance, and it's chased down by city or airport-owned security drones, captured, and confiscated.

(This pre-supposes a certain degree of technical sophistication on the part of the FAA. If they don't have the ability to build this, probably some vendor or drone manufacturer will and then operate it on behalf of the FAA as a third party.)

I anticipate a lot of arguments in coming years between land owners and drone operators about exactly where the drone right-of-ways ought to be and whether drone operators ought to pay land owners to fly over their property...


I don't think anything like that will ever happen as long as you can fly your own Cessna.

There's also nothing in your system (as stated) that will actually enforce the drones to do that. Even assuming you outlaw all the other drones, what's going to stop a criminal with a rogue/modified drone? Such a system will only harm law-abiding people.

>I anticipate a lot of arguments in coming years between land owners and drone operators about exactly where the drone right-of-ways ought to be and whether drone operators ought to pay land owners to fly over their property...

We have already solved this problem when aircraft were invented.


Large aircraft aren't generally allowed to fly low over cities unless they're taking off or landing from an airport. If a drone is going to be taking off and landing in residential areas, it'll necessarily be flying a lot lower. (I expect a lot of current drones might run out of battery before they could even reach 1000+ feet, where regular planes fly.) There's a lot of empty space in the sky, it's not hard to keep drones and Cessnas away from each other.

Laws won't stop people from flying drones where they shouldn't, but if caught they could be confiscated or the operators fined. If nuisance drones are a problem, we'll need "police drones" to chase them down and disable them. Sort of like how FCC regulations can't stop me from broadcasting a radio station on a frequency I'm not allowed to transmit on if I'm really determined to do it, but they can locate me, fine me, and generally give me strong incentives not to do it again.


I think drones in the USA have restrictions on their gps so they can't fly over airports.


Define a "drone". It's a word of limited utility these days, because it does not mean "autonomous aircraft" anymore, and gets used for anything that's R/C and flying.

My quadcopters don't even have GPS, for instance.


Are you implying it would be a good policy to start shooting down drones in domestic airspace? What problems would that solve? How would you know which drones to shoot down.


>Are you implying it would be a good policy to start shooting down drones in domestic airspace?

Yes, I believe this was the implication.

>What problems would that solve?

Giving the right to shoot down drones, in limited circumstances, to property owners would solve the following problems:

1. Prevent using a drone in violation of property, privacy and other laws;

2. Provide a negative incentive to potential violators.

Basically, same motivation and reasoning as self-defense laws.

The drones to be shut down would be drones violating the law.

Rephrasing your question in application to self-defense laws: "Am I implying it would be a good policy to start shooting people?" - the many existing self-defense laws say yes.


What question are you paraphrasing that somehow translates to shooting people? My question was about shooting down drones.

Also when it comes to self-defense laws, most states require the shooter to genuinely believe he/she is in mortal danger before shooting. Sure some states have stand your ground laws that allow more, but I would not say it's so clear-cut that people can just start shooting other people or property when they believe their rights are being violated.

It's not the people's decision as to whether a drone is violating the law. If you were arguing having the government have that right or responsibility that's a lot different. But even so shooting down aircraft is not something that should be done likely. There's a reason the FAA makes it completely illegal. Shooting a drone for flying over your property could make it go out of control and injure others.


>What question are you paraphrasing that somehow translates to shooting people? My question was about shooting down drones.

My bad, I meant re-stating your question if drones were replaced with people.

>Also when it comes to self-defense laws, most states require the shooter to genuinely believe he/she is in mortal danger before shooting.

That's why I said "limited circumstances". It would be wrong to allow to shoot down drones willy-nilly, but certain circumstances should allow it.

>It's not the people's decision as to whether a drone is violating the law.

Well, same reasoning can be applied to take down all self-defense laws.

>Shooting a drone for flying over your property could make it go out of control and injure others.

In which case you should be liable for damages.


> most states require the shooter to genuinely believe he/she is in mortal danger before shooting.

There's one other circumstance, imminent mortal or serious violent threat to others.


Unauthorized drones flying into controlled airspace represent a mortal threat; surely it justifies property damage, it probably would justify lethal force.


You would know by the fact that you had not been previously notified of the authorized use of airspace, and it's within a certain altitude range of the airfield and surrounding space.

Certainly a lot better than just throwing up your hands and waiting for an A380 to go down because somebody had a bug in their flight controller.


Do you really think an organized criminal ring or terrorists would accurately register their nefarious drone?


It sounds like they want "more durable solutions" than registration. They sound like they want airport employees or automated systems armed with microwave guns to shoot down unmanned aircraft operating too close to manned aircraft.


> sounds like they want airport employees or automated systems armed with microwave guns to shoot down unmanned aircraft operating too close to manned aircraft.

Sounds like the type of vague technological requirements mixed with ever expanding job scope the defense industry adores. Lets get this pushed through congress!

Think of the children.


You forgot about the pedophiles that transport their images via drones. And the drug deliveries with drones. And the illegal firearms delivered with drones. And how the Russians used drones to sneak in their OTP ciphers.


Why get defense industry mixed up her? The airports already deal with stray birds. They can deal with drones, too.


That was exactly the OP's point: that registration without any means to back it up (i.e. detect and stop unregistered aircraft) is useless.


Wait, you want to arm every airport in the country with anti-aircraft weaponry? Who exactly is going to man and operate these weapons?


It's not about arming every airport. It's about giving the airports the right to clear the airspace around them.

I think we should stop thinking about drones as something new. For instance, in the context of airport safety, rogue drones are simply flying nuisance objects. Do airports have to deal with these on a daily basis? Yes! The airports have to deal with birds!

What do they do with birds? They trap them, shoot them, and often kill them (e.g. see http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2520695/airpo...) Arguably, if they have this right regarding wild geese, they should have the same right regarding drones (even more so: "killing" a drone does not pose a threat to the environment).

So, to answer your question: people who hunt down birds around the airports will also hunt down drones, if given the right.


> It's about giving the airports the right to clear the airspace around them.

Why should they have that right?

Certainly they should do so over their own property, but if they want to extend that zone for commercial purposes ( i.e. permitting unhindered approach of aircraft so as to charge landing fees ) then the airport authorities should be required to buy land under the approaches, rather than just being able to declare a free-fire zone over other people's property.


Obviously the folks who get to fondle your junk in the security line will take turns.


Ideally a contractor voluntarily employed by the airport, to improve their liability position. TSA (as Consultant32452 implied) would be a poor fit. Airports already employ people with dogs, traps, and shotguns to prevent birds from interfering with flights, could be a similar deal. Shotguns would probably be fine for most drones, and relatively safe to operate skyward (unlike most other projectile weapons).


They don't need guns and dogs to fight birgs, they need more drones. And they can use those drones to fight the bad drones!


That seems like a very error-prone solution.




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