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Tue, Feb 08, 2011

AMA: FAA Seeks To Restrict Model Aircraft Flight

Academy Of Model Aeronautics Warns About Heavy Restrictions Coming From Washington

The Academy of Model Aeronautics tells ANN that the FAA is set to place "heavy restrictions" on the hobbyists who fly model aircraft. In a circular sent to ANN over the weekend, the AMA indicates that the agency is poised to impose severe restrictions on the model aviation hobby, sport and industry that will have a potentially devastating impact on a recreational and educational activity pursued by hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts, tens of thousands of employees and an industry that generates more than $1 billion in revenue.

According to the AMA, the FAA created an Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) in 2008 tasked with proposing recommendations for small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) that have been proliferating, particularly those in the commercial realm. The ARC’s charge was to draft recommended rules relative to establishing regulations for commercial sUAS and to define model aircraft – nothing more. AMA’s members are strictly hobbyists, sportsmen and educators. They are recreational users that do not participate in commercial activities. AMA was assured that the recreational modeler would be exempted from regulation.

In 2008, the ARC began its work with 20 members, more than half of which were from the commercial and public sectors with partisan interests. AMA was the lone seat for the hobbyist. AMA’s says its views and concerns were quickly swept aside in the haste to create enabling regulation for the commercial/public use sUAS industry. Subsequent protests and historical data presented by AMA have been repeatedly dismissed.

In March 2009, the ARC submitted its report to the FAA recommending a two-path approach for model aviation. This two-path approach proposes a “default path” that contains a devastating set of heavy-handed regulations and restrictions that will have a detrimental impact on the industry and thousands of aeromodeling enthusiasts not involved in AMA’s membership or programming. Alternatively, AMA must develop and fund an acceptable set of standards in order to overcome the restrictive effects of the default regulations. The two-path approach is extremely problematic and will adversely affect the aeromodeling community. AMA voiced strong opposition to this approach in the ARC’s report to the FAA.

AMA says that over the past 18 months it has worked diligently in an attempt to develop an acceptable set of standards to address FAA concerns. At the same time, however, the ground rules continue to change, creating a moving target and mounting frustration.

AMA believes that the proposed regulations fail to address the substantial diversity of the hobby and its applications and establishes unenforceable restrictions, while leaving absent a safety surveillance program to support the thousands of modelers outside of AMA’s formal structure and standards.


Large Model Aircraft

Although the exact language of the proposed regulation is not yet known, there are a number of conclusions that can be drawn from the ARC recommendations. The following are AMA’s areas of concern, the restrictions that are likely to be imposed and their effect on the model aviation community:

  • ALTITUDE: As proposed, the rule would impose a nationwide altitude ceiling of 400 feet. AMA recognizes the need for altitude limitations when model aircraft are operated in close proximity to airports, and this concept is supported in AMA’s current Safety Code. However, a nationwide altitude ceiling for model aircraft is impractical, unnecessary, unrealistic and unenforceable through any reasonable means of compliance and detection.
  • SPEED: It is likely that the rule will attempt to limit model aircraft performance by establishing a set speed limit such as 100 mph. Imposing such a speed limit will have little to no effect on aircraft performance and is both undetectable and unenforceable through any practical, cost-effective means.
  • WEIGHT: As proposed, the sUAS rule will limit small unmanned aircraft to 55 pounds or less, and the implication for AMA’s Large Model Aircraft Program has not yet been determined. Without an acceptable standard or an alternative means of compliance, this rule may well curtail a vital element of the modeling activity that drives creativity, innovation and technological development.
  • TURBINE BAN: The blanket prohibition of gas turbine engines suggested in the ARC recommendations does not consider the wide range of products currently in the marketplace. The inclusion of this prohibition in the proposed rule will impose a significant and unjustified economic impact on the industry.
  • AIRPORT PROXIMITY: It is understood that the FAA is considering going outside the ARC’s recommendation and extending the “area of concern” around the nation’s 19,760 airports beyond the current 3-mile radius that has been the standard for more than 29 years. The intent to extend this radius has absolutely no statistical basis, has no supporting data and has no accident or incident correlation. Doing so would exponentially impact the number of existing flying sites affected by the rule. Extending the radius by as little as 2 miles (to 5 miles) would nearly triple the area of concern and create more than 1,784,000 square miles in which “no fly without permission” restrictions would be imposed.

It is the position of the AMA that, based upon the direction the rule is headed, it is clearly evident that the intent is not to objectively evaluate the model aircraft operations and realistically assess the risks. It is rather to unfairly eliminate model aviation from the safety equation by arbitrarily eliminating it from the airspace it has revered and safely used for decades. The organization urges all who are in favor of full analysis, regulatory restraint and fair play to help AMA save a hobby, a dynamic sport, a vital educational pursuit, and a $1 billion industry from what it says is undue government intervention that will have devastating consequences.

FMI: http://modelaircraft.org, www.faa.gov

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