In February 2012, Congress passed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. In this Act, Section 336 told the FAA to not create a rule or regulation governing model aircraft that meet all 5 elements. This is not all model or recreational aircraft, but ONLY those that meet all of the qualifications listed in Section 336.
The FAA created a set of drone registration regulations back in the fall of 2015 that applied to model aircraft and non-model aircraft. On December 24, 2015, John Taylor, along with my help, sued the FAA in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. For an in-depth discussion on the case, read my complete guide to the Taylor v. FAA lawsuit.
On May 19, 2017, the D.C. Circuit ruled “that Taylor’s petition for review of the Registration Rule be granted and the Registration Rule to the extent it applies to model aircraft be vacated[.]” The FAA had a chance to appeal the case, but they did not so on July 3, 2017, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling went into effect. Shortly after the ruling went into effect, the FAA made an announcement that you can request a $5 refund AND also have your information deleted.
FAA’s Drone Refund/ Info Delete Announcement
Here is what the announcement said:
The FAA is providing the following updated information regarding the Small UAS Registration and Marking interim final rule as a result of a recent decision (PDF) by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit regarding the small UAS registration program.
The court’s decision invalidated the registration requirement as it applies to certain model aircraft that meet the definitional and operational requirements provided in section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act (PDF). Owners of model aircraft which are operated in compliance with section 336 are not required to register. Owners of all other small unmanned aircraft, including newly-purchased unmanned aircraft not operated exclusively in compliance with section 336, remain subject to the registration requirement. The FAA continues to encourage voluntary registration for all owners of small unmanned aircraft.
The FAA is working on a final rule with respect to registration and marking that will implement the court’s decision. In the meantime, if you are an owner operating exclusively in compliance with section 336 and you wish to delete your registration and receive a refund of your registration fee, you may do so by accessing a registration deletion and self-certification form (PDF) and mailing it to the FAA at the address designated on the form. Owners who already received a refund during the initial grace period are not eligible to receive a refund. This form has been submitted to the Office of Management and Budget for approval of the information collection.
Who Does This Apply To?
The D.C. Circuit’s ruling applied ONLY to recreational flyers who fall within the protections of Section 336. This did NOT apply to commercial flyers. Not all recreational flyers fall into the Section 336 protected category. I would say many are actually Part 107 recreational flyers who ARE required to fly with a registered drone. Basically, flying recreationally does not by itself mean you are in the protected class. See my discussion on Part 107 recreational vs. Section 336 recreational for a more in-depth discussion.
Where Does the FAA go From Here?
The announcement said, “The FAA is working on a final rule with respect to registration and marking that will implement the court’s decision.” The rulemaking process to create regulations takes a long time to complete. You are looking at roughly 3 years at a minimum. So it looks like the FAA might be moving in the direction to fix the regulations in Part 48 that speak to model aircraft. (E.g. 14 CFR 48.100 “Required information: Individuals intending to use the small unmanned aircraft exclusively as a model aircraft.”)
Additionally, I don’t think this will happen anytime soon because the FAA has enough on its plate trying to get out the over people regulations and extended operations regulations. Constraining those efforts is President Trump’s executive order requiring 2 regulations to be repealed for every new regulation created unless an exemption is obtained from the Office of Management and Budget.
Words of Warning Before Filling it Out
1. Can you really trust the FAA with your bank account information?
You have to give the FAA your name, address, and financial institution information. Kinda messed up if you ask me. You have to give MORE confidential information to the FAA to get the $5 back and information deleted that was illegally obtained. I wouldn’t waste my time for the $5. The deletion of the personal information is the only thing I would be interested in.
2. By signing this document, you could create problems for yourself in the future.
The instructions say, “On the first page, in order to self-certify, please check each applicable stipulation in the list of section 336 provisions. If each provision is not checked, your record deletion and refund will not be processed.” There are multiple problematic statements in this document which could cause problems down the line in future enforcement actions. I’m not going to get into all the problems or why there are problems because at the end of the day, you are not my client and I’m not your attorney. If you want to find out more about the problems, you might want to hire an aviation attorney to find out.
The delete registration and request refund document is located here.
5 Evidences of the FAA Trying to Prevent Refunds and Deregistration.
1. The FAA forces you to sign a certification which can cause you legal problems.
The refund form says, “I hereby certify that I always operate exclusively in compliance with all of the following provisions of section 336” which has a deterring effect on people requesting a refund and information being deleted. People will say to themselves, “Um, I don’t know about this. This certification could come back to bite me. I just won’t sign it.”
2. To Get Your $5 Back, You MUST Give the FAA More Information (Sensitive Financial Information).
How many of you feel comfortable giving out financial info? Not many. But can the federal government be trusted with your information? Just ask the 4 million federal government employees who had their data compromised in 2015 by Chinese hackers.
3. You Must Mail in the Forms.
The FAA prides itself in trying to be innovative and cutting edge. The registration process could be conveniently done online with a credit card. Contrasting the “streamlined” registration to this now “undermined” de-registration process, the FAA has reverted to requiring people to actually mail in the paperwork. You can’t submit the information online. You can’t email in a scan.
You have to find an envelope, some stamps, and go out of your way to drop off the letter. You aren’t even getting $5 back because you are having to pay for a stamp to get your money back and maybe expend gas to drive the letter to the post office! You have to spend money to get your illegally taken money. Even this Mashable article pointed this crazy situation out, “[I] had to figuratively hop in a time machine and travel to a place where all government facilities are connected via Pony Express. It’s remarkable how easy it is to give the government money and how hard it is for them to give it back.”
Why can’t we use that convenient “streamlined” registration portal that was already created? Furthermore, won’t this mail in plan be a waste of taxpayer resources? Some poor FAA employees, paid for by US tax payer dollars, are going to have to go through it all and enter the information (which will no doubt result in some clerical errors to be resolved by some poor citizen).
4. FAA Published Nothing in the Federal Register.
The FAA never published a notice in the federal register of the new refund and de-registration process; however, the FAA DID publish in the federal register, five times, information relating to the registration process:
- (10/22/2015) Clarification of the Applicability of Aircraft Registration Requirements for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and Request for Information Regarding Electronic Registration for UAS
- (12/15/2015) Privacy Act of 1974; Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, DOT/FAA-801; Aircraft Registration Records System of Records Notice
- (12/16/2015) Registration and Marking Requirements for Small Unmanned Aircraft
- (12/21/2015) Registration and Marking Requirements for Small Unmanned Aircraft
- (5/10/2016) Agency Information Collection Activities: Requests for Comments; Clearance of Renewed Approval of Information Collection: Small Unmanned Aircraft Registration System (sUAS)
5. The FAA Did Not Email Everyone.
The FAA has everyone’s email on record. They did not email any of the hobbyists. So simple. But no.