United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit
John A. Taylor, Petitioner
Michael P. Huerta, as Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration, Respondent
March 14, 2017
Petitions for Review of Orders of the Federal Aviation
A. Taylor, pro se, argued the cause and filed the briefs for
Sperry was on the brief for amicus curiae TechFreedom in
support of petitioner.
C. Wright, Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, argued the
cause for respondent. With her on the brief were Benjamin C.
Mizer, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the
time the brief was filed, Michael S. Raab, Attorney, and Paul
M. Geier, Assistant General Counsel for Litigation, Federal
Aviation Administration. Richard H. Saltsman, Attorney,
Federal Aviation Administration, entered an appearance.
Before: Kavanaugh and Wilkins, Circuit Judges, and Edwards,
Senior Circuit Judge.
Kavanaugh, Circuit Judge.
has charged the Federal Aviation Administration with
maintaining the safety of the Nation's air traffic. As
small unmanned aircraft (sometimes known as drones) have
become more popular, the number of unmanned aircraft-related
safety incidents has increased. In 2015, in an effort to
address that trend, the FAA promulgated a rule known as the
Registration Rule. That Rule requires the owners of small
unmanned aircraft operated for recreational purposes to
register with the FAA. Unmanned aircraft operated for
recreational purposes are known as "model aircraft,
" and we will use that term throughout this opinion.
Separately, the FAA published a notice, known as Advisory
Circular 91-57A, announcing that model aircraft would be
subject to certain flight restrictions in the Washington,
John Taylor is a model aircraft hobbyist who is now required
to register with the FAA. He has operated model aircraft from
his home in the Washington, D.C., area, and he wants to
continue to do so without registering or complying with the
new flight restrictions. Taylor filed petitions in this Court
to challenge the FAA's Registration Rule and the Advisory
begin, Taylor does not think that the FAA had the statutory
authority to issue the Registration Rule and require him to
register. Taylor is right. In 2012, Congress passed and
President Obama signed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act.
Section 336(a) of that Act states that the FAA "may not
promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model
aircraft." Pub. L. No. 112-95, § 336(a), 126 Stat.
11, 77 (2012) (codified at 49 U.S.C. § 40101 note). The
FAA's 2015 Registration Rule, which applies to model
aircraft, directly violates that clear statutory prohibition.
We therefore grant Taylor's petition and vacate the
Registration Rule to the extent it applies to model aircraft.
challenges Advisory Circular 91-57A on the ground that the
Circular likewise violates Section 336(a). That Circular
prohibits the operation of model aircraft in various
restricted areas, including the Flight Restricted Zone around
Washington, D.C. But Taylor's petition challenging the
Advisory Circular is untimely. By statute, a petitioner must
challenge an FAA order within 60 days of the order's
issuance unless there are reasonable grounds for delay. 49
U.S.C. § 46110(a). Taylor acknowledges that he filed his
petition challenging the Advisory Circular outside the 60-day
window. He did not have reasonable grounds for the late
filing. His petition for review of Advisory Circular 91-57A
is therefore denied.
has directed the FAA to "promote safe flight of civil
aircraft" and to set standards governing the operation
of aircraft in the United States. 49 U.S.C. § 44701(a).
Congress has also required "aircraft" to be
registered before operation. See id. §§
44101, 44103. To register, aircraft owners must complete a
registration process that is quite extensive, as one would
imagine for airplanes.
FAA has not previously interpreted the general registration
statute to apply to model aircraft. Instead, the FAA has
issued an optional set of operational guidelines for model
aircraft. The FAA's Advisory Circular 91-57, titled Model
Aircraft Operating Standards and published in 1981, provided
suggestions for the safe operation of model aircraft. Under