Understanding the FAA's Interpretation of the Rule and How to Comment.

On June 23, 2014, the FAA issued an Interpretive Rule that outlines its interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft that was included in the FAA Reauthorization and Modernization Act of 2012. As you should know from previous alerts AMA has significant concern about the FAA’s interpretation of many of the stipulations in the law. We’ve outlined some of those concerns and how the FAA’s interpretation of the law may effect aeromodelers:

1. Are you a model aircraft enthusiast?
2. Do you enjoy flying First Person View?
3. Are you a sponsored pilot, fly in competitive events, or enjoy watching companies demonstrate product?

4. Do you fly within 5 miles of one of the more than 17,000 airports in the US?
5. Does your club manage its own flying site in a safe and responsible manner?
6. Do you or your club fly in “controlled airspace”?
7. Do you know every rule and regulation pertaining to the National Airspace System?
8. What the rule is:
9. What can I do to help?

View AMA’s comments to FAA’s Interpretive Rule



1. Are you a model aircraft enthusiast?
As a model aircraft enthusiast you are now subject to all the rules and regulations of the National Airspace System, including those intended for full-scale aircraft. If you are a private pilot and are cited for a violation while flying a model aircraft, your full-scale license may be jeopardized.

[AMA's Viewpoint:]
The FAA’s interpretation concludes with the statement that an unknown number of aviation regulations “may apply to model aircraft operations, depending on the particular circumstances of the operation.” I believe this sweeping statement is contrary to Congressional intent in the 2012 statute, in which Congress required the FAA to exempt recreational model aircraft from new aviation regulations and to continue to allow community-based organizations to self-govern the hobby instead. This interpretation negatively affects me because the FAA has not provided guidance on what kind of model aircraft use might now be subject to regulation and possible penalties. This seems unfair.

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2. Do you enjoy flying First Person View?
Even operating under AMA’s guidelines and using a spotter, FPV flight using goggles is prohibited. This is despite that it could be argued that a spotter provides enhanced awareness of the airspace because a spotter scans the airspace while a pilot with visual line of site on the model is focused on the model. AMA also sees this an unprecedented attempt to prohibit one specific technology opening the door to threats to other modeling technologies that the FAA may not like.

[AMA's Viewpoint:]
The FAA’s interpretation suggests that hobbyists who fly their models by “first person view” (FPV) might be doing something wrong if they are using video glasses or “goggles.” For the past decade, FPV has been inspiring students, engineers, robotics enthusiasts, and many others to take up the hobby or to expand their hobby activities. FPV control adds no danger to the hobby, especially when a spotter is present to monitor the airspace. The language of the 2012 statute concerning “within visual line of sight” indicates how far away a person should fly the model aircraft, not what method of control may be used for the recreational experience. [This part of the FAA's interpretation impacts me because I enjoy flying FPV or plan to explore FPV in the near future.]

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3. Are you a sponsored pilot, fly in competitive events, or enjoy watching companies demonstrate product?
In the strictest sense of the interpretation it could prohibit sponsored pilots, pilots who accept any compensation (even reimbursement of expenses) to put on demos at events, or pilots who receive prizes or cash awards at a competitive event if they represent a company. It could eliminate companies demonstrating their product at events. The rule specifically calls out as prohibited “Receiving money (compensation) for demonstrating aerobatics with a model aircraft.”

[AMA's Viewpoint:]
The FAA's Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft restricts people who are flying model aircraft from receiving any payments. For decades, people have been paid by hobby companies for promotional or product development purposes and have participated in contests and competitions that have cash prizes. These payments do not change the underlying recreational purpose of the overall activity or make the hobby any less safe. The FAA’s very narrow interpretation of "hobby," dug out of dictionaries rather than an understanding of actual hobby in question, will change model aviation for the worse with no public benefit. [This part of the FAA’s interpretation will negatively impact me because I like to participate in and watch model airplane competitions, I work for a hobby company, I am sometimes paid for my time teaching people to fly model airplanes, or I have plans to do one or more of those things.]

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4. Do you fly within 5 miles of one of the more than 17,000 airports in the US?
The interpretive rule requires that you have permission to fly within this 5-mile area. An airport authority, for no reason other than because he or she simply doesn’t like model aircraft could prohibit your ability to fly within the 5-mile radius, even if the club has been flying at a site for decades.

[AMA's Viewpoint:]
The FAA’s interpretation appears to require any person with any size model aircraft to ask authorization from air traffic control before flying it, if within 5 miles of an airport. This is a new requirement for model aircraft, contrary to Congressional intent. The FAA has not offered any guidance as to what is considered an “airport” and whether that includes rarely used grass strips and helipads. If so, how do I reach the airport controller when no one is there? In another part of the interpretation, the FAA suggests that certain “classes” of airspace may govern what permission a model aircraft operator needs. This is confusing and unclear, and imposes many more obligations upon hobbyists than they ever had before, in contradiction to Congress’s intent. This interpretation impacts me because it does not clearly provide notice of what I am supposed to do. [My home, local park, or model aircraft club is within 5 miles of an airport and I am concerned that I need to ask permission of air traffic control just to use a toy in my backyard or local park.]

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5. Does your club manage its own flying site in a safe and responsible manner?

In its strictest sense the interpretive rule comes close to giving the FAA the ability to dictate the layout of club flying sites. It has the potential to shut down park pilot flying sites in urban areas, and gives the FAA the ability to take enforcement action against a modeler who violates the statute.


[AMA's Viewpoint:]
The FAA’s interpretation specifically implies that the FAA may take enforcement action against someone, even a model aviation enthusiast, for posing a risk to people or property on the ground. The interpretation also states that “operations may not be conducted closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.” AMA’s recommended guidelines for flying sites has worked well for decades. Imposing such stringent requirements as outlined in the interpretation would have a devastating impact on my flying site, my ability to enjoy model aviation in what I believe is already a safe and responsible manner, and potentially cause the demise of countless model aviation flying sites across the country.

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6. Do you or your club fly in “controlled airspace”?
The interpretive rule defines a model aircraft as an aircraft. To enter Class B airspace, the operator of an aircraft would need to be licensed, establish two-way radio communication, and have a transponder (a device that help controllers better identify an aircraft). It’s impossible for a model aircraft to comply with the requirement, and in some cases controlled airspace begins at ground level. This could eliminate nearly 100 AMA chartered club flying sites that have flown safely in Class B airspace for years, and hundreds more that fly in other controlled airspace.

[AMA's Viewpoint:]
The Interpretive Rule establishes new restrictions and prohibitions to which model aircraft have never been subject to in the past by saying, “if an operator is unable to comply with the regulatory requirements for operating in a particular class of airspace, the operator would need authorization from air traffic control to operate in that area.” Nothing in the Public Law or FAA’s current guidance for model aircraft, AC 91-57, makes such a requirement. And, the application of this “interpretation” would effectively prohibit model aircraft from operating in airspace where there are requirements specifically intended for manned aircraft operations.

For example, under 14 CFR 91-131, “No person may operate an aircraft within a Class B airspace area (unless) the operator… receive(s) an ATC clearance. No person may… operate a civil aircraft within a Class B airspace area unless – the pilot in command holds a… pilot certificate.” These are requirements to which model aircraft operators cannot reasonable comply, and it is doubtful that any authorization and/or clearance will be forthcoming despite the Interpretive Rule’s suggestion that, “modelers… obtain authorization from air traffic control prior to operating” in such airspace.

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7. Do you know every rule and regulation pertaining to the National Airspace System?
    The FAA may, at its discretion, subjectively apply any rule or regulation created to address full-scale operations to model aircraft. In the strictest sense this could even require licensing of model aircraft pilots. This might be unlikely, but this clearly opens the door to that possibility.

[AMA's Viewpoint:]
The FAA’s interpretation concludes with the statement that an unknown number of aviation regulations “may apply to model aircraft operations, depending on the particular circumstances of the operation.” I believe this sweeping statement is contrary to Congressional intent in the 2012 statute, in which Congress required the FAA to exempt recreational model aircraft from new aviation regulations and to continue to allow community-based organizations to self-govern the hobby instead. This interpretation negatively affects me because the FAA has not provided guidance on what kind of model aircraft use might now be subject to regulation and possible penalties. This seems unfair.

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8. What the rule is:
    It is an attempt to circumvent the protection Congress provided for aermodeling in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. The interpretive rule does this while clearly recognizing a section of the law which reads “Section 336 (of the act) also prohibits the FAA from promulgating) “any new rule or regulation regarding model aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft ...” if certain requirements are met. There are several examples of the FAA creating new rule in the interpretation.

There are more examples of concern within the interpretive rule but these examples are the most egregious. As the FAA has interpreted the law, it could affect thousands or tens of thousands of model aviation enthusiasts and hundreds if not more than a thousand AMA chartered clubs.

9. What can I do to help?
    Add your voice to others who oppose the potential damaging effect the Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft will have on model aviation. Virtually every modeler faces the potential for some negative impact from the FAA’s interpretation of the law. Choose one or more of these issues that you believe may affect you and submit your comments. We’ve offered some viewpoints that you can draw from to help guide you in preparing your remarks. Your voice can help protect the hobby.

Emailing your comment is the fastest and most convenient method. All comments must include the docket number FAA-2014-0396. Go to www.regulations.gov. Follow the online instructions for sending your comments electronically.
 


DEADLINE TO COMMENT:  On or before September 23, 2014