Congress Destroys A Hobby, FAA Gets The Blame

As ordered by the US Congress, the FAA is gearing up to set forth a standard for commercial UAVs, Unmanned Aerial Systems, and commercial drones operating in America’s airspace. While they’ve been dragging their feet, and the laws and rules for these commercial drones probably won’t be ready by 2015, that doesn’t mean the FAA can’t figure out what the rules are for model aircraft in the meantime.

This week, the FAA released its interpretation (PDF) of what model aircraft operators can and can’t do, and the news isn’t good: FPV flights with quadcopters and model airplanes are now effectively banned, an entire industry centered around manufacturing and selling FPV equipment and autopilots will be highly regulated, and a great YouTube channel could soon be breaking the law.

The FAA’s interpretation of what model aircraft can and cannot do, and to a larger extent, what model aircraft are comes from the FAA Modernization And Reform Act Of 2012 (PDF). While this law states the, “…Federal Aviation Administration may
not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft…” it defines model aircraft as, “an unmanned aircraft that is capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere; flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and flown for hobby or recreational purposes.” The FAA has concluded that anything not meeting this definition, for example, a remote controlled airplane with an FPV setup, or a camera, video Tx and Rx, and video goggles, is therefore not a model aircraft, and falls under the regulatory authority of the FAA.

In addition, the FAA spent a great deal of verbiage defining what, “hobby or recreational purposes” in regards to model aircraft are. A cited example of a realtor using a model aircraft to take videos of a property they are selling is listed as not a hobby or recreation, as is a farmer using a model aircraft to see if crops need water. Interestingly, receiving money for demonstrating aerobatics with a model aircraft is also not allowed under the proposed FAA guidelines, a rule that when broadly interpreted could mean uploading a video of yourself flying a model plane, uploading that to YouTube, and clicking the ‘monetize’ button could soon be against the law. This means the awesome folks at Flite Test could soon be out of a job.

The AMA, the Academy Of Model Aeronautics, and traditionally the organization that sets the ‘community-based set of safety guidelines’ referred to in every law dealing with model aircraft, are not happy with the FAA’s proposed rules (PDF). However, their objection is a breathless emotional appeal calls the proposed rules a, “a strict regulatory approach to the operation of model aircraft in the hands of our youth and elderly members.” Other than offering comments per the FAA rulemaking process there are, unfortunately, no possible legal objections to the proposed FAA rules, simply because the FAA is doing exactly what congress told them to do.

The FAA is simply interpreting the Modernization And Reform Act Of 2012 as any person would: FPV goggles interfere with the line of sight of an aircraft, thus anyone flying something via FPV goggles falls under the regulatory authority of the FAA. Flying over the horizon is obviously not line of sight, and therefore not a model aircraft. Flying a model aircraft for money is not a hobby or recreation, and if you’re surprised about this, you simply aren’t familiar with FAA rules about money, work, and person-sized aircraft.

While the proposed FAA rules are not yet in effect, and the FAA is seeking public comment on these rules, if passed there will, unfortunately, exactly two ways to fix this. The first is with a change in federal law to redefine what a model aircraft is. Here’s how to find your congresscritter, with the usual rules applying: campaign donations are better than in-person visits which are better than letters which are better than phone calls which are better than emails. They’ll also look up if you have voted in the last few elections.

If passed, the only other way these rules will align with the privileges model aircraft enthusiasts have enjoyed for decades is through a court ruling. The lawsuit objecting to these rules will most likely be filed by the AMA, and if these rules pass, a donation or membership wouldn’t be a bad idea.

177 thoughts on “Congress Destroys A Hobby, FAA Gets The Blame

  1. fucking ameritards ahah. can buy a military grade firearm but can’t fly an innocent uav.
    land of the free. yeah right.
    glad I live in a developed country where I can fly as I want.

  2. “democrat version of Pravda”
    You just flunked your voter competency test;sorry. either you are too young to know better and are regurgitating what deceptive cheating old farts are infecting you with to better their ends not yours. The corporate owned press in the US is only like Pravda in that it’s the mouthpiece of the US business government elite, and is unlike Pravda in that it isn’t wedded to one party. Just don’t worry yourself none you’ll still get to vote because there will never be any voter competency standard in the US because that business government elite doesn’t want competent electorate. About Beck consider he has producers screening callers or on the street interviewees that are easily manipulated to saying stupid things, don’t fall for that fool’s crocodile tears. I live in may small rural town where there are several farm/ranch operations that receive money in the amount of 7 figures from the federal government, but their wining isn’r repoerten in that demo

  3. Bear with me I am heading somewhere that I rarely see others mention lot of comment bring up the founders of the USA here’s a news flash, although it really should be news. The American revolution was started by landowners and merchants, the same people created the US Constitution that address commerce before they tacked on unalienable rights like an reluctant afterthought. Replace the word people in the Gettysburg Address you get a more accurate description of the true nature of the US Federal government. I’m not an AMA and generally follow RC aircraft to know how much a role the AMA played in drafting section 336 of the Reform Act of 2012, but To me the intent of Congress is very clear and nothing like What the AMA seems to believe it is. The intent of Congress was to protect commercial manufactures UAV from hobbyists than do the same job inexpensively. As for the jobs of the “good folks at flight test” they already should have there shit in order to try to serve the commercial market, along with the hobby market that’s not going anywhere. Sorry if they aren’t’ going to a least try to evolve with new regulations I can’t feel sorry for them if they fail. The hyperbole that this could be the end of the hobby isn’t warranted. True there will be aspects of it that will become difficult for many to do. Get over it doing everything you want to any at any time isn’t the sort of liberty the founders where talking about.

  4. Uh, what’s to prevent us from lobbying for an exemption for aircraft hobbyists — ?

    I can’t understand why so many Internet savvy people are so loath to become civically engaged. It does NOT require huge amounts of time, getting pounded by cops and being disappeared into FEMA concentration camps, strutting around in department stores and 7-11s with semiautomatics, chanting and burning bras and draft cards and effigies of the President, or any of the other odious clichés we have come to associate with activism.

    Just pick up the phone and call your local political representatives. Most of them are glad to hear from their constituents — it keeps their idealism on life support. We have more clout than we think we do, and the people we voted for are NOT the monster-clowns we mock them for what we imagine they are.

    Maybe bring a few quadcopters for a demo for your local Congresscritters at their next meet-and-greet. Let ’em have a turn at the controls. The best cure for being clueless is hands-on experience. American ingenuity starts in the Hackerspace, the garage, and the imagination — and it works for Democrats, Republicans, and everybody else.

    But at least call. Start here:

  5. I am both an R/C modeller and a licenced pilot and the CAA here in the UK are watching the outcome of this “debate” with interest. The rules are similar here and there have been prosecutions recently for infringements.
    The rules are made for very good reasons for the protection of the majority of the population who have a right to expect to be able to go about their legitimate business without the fear of being interfered with by selfish idiots who don’t give a tinkers cuss about anyone but themselves. Have a look on YouTube at the morons and I do mean morons why blatantly advertise their exploits of flying fpv 30 miles or so from the take-off point and at 20,000+ feet with no idea of what’s around them or what to do in the event of a potential collision. An accident WILL HAPPEN if these morons continue to do what they do and I am all for them being locked up for a very long time for breaking the rules.
    Yes, we have a right to fly our models in accordance with the rules, but we also have the responsibility to accept the consequences of our actions.

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