Global Drone Blog

New Ruling Allows Hobby Drone Owners to Fly Unregistered with the FAA

by Susan Friedberg

The FAA announced in December 2015 that it would require every person who wished to fly a drone in US airspace pay a small fee and provide their contact information. Failure to do so could result in fines as well as potential criminal penalties. Many hobby drone owners did not agree that the government should put in place such a registration system and sued the FAA. At the time of the ruling, over 770,000 hobby drones were registered in the U.S. In a win for hobbyists, last week the US court of appeals in Washington, DC ruled that the FAA’s rule forcing registration of drones under 55 lbs is unlawful. Read more from Mike Murphy at Quartz, here.

Here’s what we make of this decision:

  • Now that the FAA can no longer require recreational drone pilots to register their hardware, early detection is a critical element to all protected area’s security equation. We’ll never know the intention of a pilot, whether they are a registered user or not. Dedrone's DroneTracker software can detect all drones, whether they are registered or unregistered with the FAA. We want all drones identified, regardless of their registration status, manufacturer, if they’re DIY, their size, payload or any other differentiating factors. None of this matters when there is a high-risk or high-value area or building that needs airspace security.
  • There is a widening gap between FAA regulation being enacted and enforced. There’s nobody on the ground taking a census of who owns which drones for what purpose – and there may likely never be. Laws designed to protect citizens are circumnavigated by pilots who are motivated to cause harm, whether they are using a hobby drone or otherwise. DroneTracker is the only early detection solution that mitigates all drone risks and attacks.
  • The future success of the drone industry depends on both government and private sectors to support and facilitate the integration and operations of drones in our airspace. New pilots are coming into our airspace every day, and their intentions and knowledge of safe flying practices may remain a mystery. While the FAA continues to create a foundation of drone research, enterprises and individuals who are following the drone industry must be their own safety and security advocates and take proactive approaches to secure their airspace.

This decision is already being challenged. We saw an example this weekend of a hobby drone flying out of control and crashing into a stadium. It was a perfect scenario to show how hobby drone pilots are going where they shouldn’t and can quickly lose control of their drones. We aren’t even sure at this time if the pilot intended to crash their drone into the crowd. There’s also no identifying factors on the drone itself to help locate the pilot – this is where Dedrone steps in. We can classify not only the type of drone but also the flight path and other factors, such as the communications protocol. This information is also stored to help investigators locate a pilot and hold them responsible if any damage is done.

It’s up to drone pilots to exercise responsibility and follow laws and regulations, but we haven’t seen yet how the federal government plans to enforce this ruling. Even with proper authorization, pilot error occurs, which could interrupt operations and cause physical harm.

We welcome your feedback on this issue and you can reach us at press@dedrone.com