FAA Reauthorization Bill Includes Provisions For Hobbyists

Every year, Congress passes bills directing the funding for various departments and agencies. Sometimes, this goes swimmingly: congress recently told NASA to attempt a landing on Europa, Jupiter’s ice-covered moon. Sometimes, it doesn’t go as well. The draft of the FAA Reauthorization act of 2016 (PDF) includes provisions for drones and model airplanes amid fears of privacy-encroaching quadcopters.

As would be expected, the 2016 FAA Reauthorization act includes a number of provisions for unmanned aerial systems, a class of aircraft that ranges from a Phantom quadcopter to a Predator drone. The draft of the act includes provisions for manufacturers to prevent tampering of modification of their product, and provide the FAA with a statement of compliance, and prohibit these devices from being sold unless these conditions are met.

For a very long time, the Congress and the FAA have had special rules for model aircraft. Since 2012, the special rules for model aircraft have been simple enough: model aircraft are flown for hobby or recreational use, must operate in accordance with community-set safety guidelines, weigh less than 55 pounds, give way to manned aircraft, and not be flown within five miles of an airport. The 2016 FAA Reauthorization bill adds several updates. No model aircraft may be flown higher than 400 feet above ground level, and the operator of a model aircraft must pass a knowledge and safety test administered by the FAA. Under this draft of the FAA Reauthorization bill, you will have to pass a test to fly a quadcopter or model plane.

While this is only a draft of the 2016 FAA Reauthorization bill, there is a considerable risk flying model planes could quickly go the way of amateur radio with a Morse requirement for the license. This, of course, is due to Congress’ fears of the impact drones and model airplanes could have on safety, despite recent studies that show a 2kg drone is likely to cause injury to a human passenger once every 187 million years of operation. In other words, politicians don’t understand statistics.

62 thoughts on “FAA Reauthorization Bill Includes Provisions For Hobbyists

    1. One dumbass will screw up your probabilities.

      The probability of finding a dumbass in the US is not one in 187 million years — it’s closer to one in two minutes (that includes those bringing their political bent into discussions here).

    2. “a 2kg drone is likely to cause injury to a human passenger once every 187 million years of operation. In other words, politicians don’t understand statistics.”

      Is that 187 million drone-years? So with 200 million drones you get a couple a year. A small price to pay. Also, I think anyone making ad money with Youtube videos from a drone will be in violation. Same way you can’t use a private pilot license and charge for anything performed while you were the pilot in command. If the powers that be want to get tough there is plenty of private / sport pilot licensed people with ads on Youtube videos who would be in trouble.

      It won’t be long before data miners will be able to find all the “improper” videos on the web with Google’s AI tools.

    1. Drones are becoming a threat to manned aviation because of their numbers – they are no longer considered “DIY”. Idiots interfering with firefighting, near misses with manned aircraft make these laws NECESSARY.

      We’ve royally screwed ourselves by making them ubiquitous ( https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/533/27/case.html ). Watch what you develop or it will bite you in the a$$ (like the guy developing a “lock picking robot”).

      Then there’s the DJI Chinese Trojan Horse that can upload firmware from China to do its bidding recon-wise.

        1. sadly the knee jerk reactionary politicians we have in the US only create more laws (that is their job) they never concern themselves with enforcement or punishing the judicial branch for not enforcing the laws.

          1. That’s what gets the idiots to vote for them. They have to look like they are doing something. Simply letting local law enforcement enforce the pre-existing laws doesn’t do anything for the politician.

      1. There are more photos of UFOs than of drones interfering with anything. Given that there are between 100 and 200 million smart phones with cameras in them in the US, the most likely explanation is that there aren’t actual cases of drones interfering. The only close encounter I know of was when a police helicopter pilot chased a drone. The pilot tried to claim the quadcopter climbed a thousand feet in just a second – more than the speed of sound. Fortunately recorded footage showed the helicopter pilot was a liar. Other reports are unsubstantiated with most as credible than UFO reports.

    1. Time to be insensitive…
      What’s the difference between a drone, and a helicopter you buy at a local Radioshack / BestBuy?
      There is no damn difference. You can buy tiny cheap drones, and you can buy big expensive helicopters and model airplanes. They *are* toys, and any toy with moving parts or small parts should be considered a hazard.
      We don’t need laws for specific toys, we need laws ‘against’ interference of infrastructure and other people.
      ie. no objects are to be launched, flown, or otherwise put in flight controlled directly or indirectly;
      – at any height within a 1km radii of emergency vehicles.
      – above 5m within a 5km radii of air-ports.
      – above any non-consenting individuals or properties.

      Ignore the entire ‘drone’ buzzword… heck, we have ‘anti-cellphone’ laws now because people don’t understand ‘without due *care and attention*’ . Why do we keep dumbing things down and restricting everything to help people who don’t have any common sense? Expert or no, you should be careful of any object that can cause injury, toy or no.

          1. We have a small airfield out here. It’s used for sailplane takeoff and landing…and the local military for paratrooper training. On the weekends though it’s not used for any of that. Each weekend people come out there and fly their kites. Loads of them. Enough to cause trouble with a military heli flying by. But it’s allowed.

            Hence: if the owner of the building at the airport tells you “feel free to fly stuff in there, as long as it stays in and the doors/windows are closed.” you’re completely free to do so. Of course you should get that in written form, signed by the owner.

          1. How exactly do they define indoor use vs. outdoor use? In other words, where exactly is the line? Inside a building with all doors and windows closed is clearly indoors, and outside in the vicinity of a shade structure is clearly outdoors. But what about inside a building with all doors and windows open (and what if those doors are hangar-sized), and what about underneath the shade structure? Are those indoors or outdoors? What about a fully enclosed courtyard? What about the roof of an apartment building? What about a stadium with a roof that can open and close?

      1. > no objects are to be launched, flown, or otherwise put in flight controlled directly or indirectly … at any height within a 1km radii of emergency vehicles.

        So everyone who wants to throw a ball for their dog in their backyard is now expected to know the exact location of every emergency vehicle in the city at all times?

        Though I agree that laws are being made way more specific than they need to be.

  1. Just wait until drones start crawling above 400ft, or 400ft below ground, and then start replicating. What is the FAA gong to do then? Classify them as illegal intelligence?

    1. “Just wait until drones start crawling above 400ft, or 400ft below ground, and then start replicating. What is the FAA gong to do then? Classify them as illegal intelligence?”


    2. You clearly did not read the proposed bill. NO operations above 400 feet AGL (not MSK) – that woudl include drones raping each other and the progeny resulting thereof. Operations below ground are also EXCLUDED and fall under mining operations laws.

  2. PS to Brian Benchoff:: Morse code is not required anymore for getting an amateur radio license… We celebrate the 10th year of being free of Samuel F. B. Morse’s invented code… – and guess what: a section of the serious HAM community is still living it and newbies are learning it because it is the leanest mean to DX. – KM6ABG

  3. The “no flying within 5 miles of an airport” is misinformation that keeps being repeated. The wording in the “Special Rule For Model Aircraft” actually states:
    (5) when flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport
    operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the
    airport) with prior notice of the operation (model aircraft operators flying from a permanent
    location within 5 miles of an airport should establish a mutually-agreed upon operating
    procedure with the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic
    facility is located at the airport)).

    So, you *can* fly within 5 miles of an airport. You just need to provide notice to the airport tower and airport operator that you are doing so. Note: providing notice is not the same as asking for permission.

    The recent “reinterpretation” of all these rules by the FAA has thrown many of these statements into doubt, but we should be clear about the original text.

    1. You cannot fly an unmanned aircraft within 5 miles of an airport, PERIOD, unless it falls under model aircraft, which is going to be rare, given the number of hairless apes buying these things. Don’t encourage lay dumbasses into killing people by citing BS interpretations of law.

      1. Charles didn’t say “yo go ahead and fly there, they cant stop you…. nananana”
        He said “you CAN in fact fly near airports, PROVIDED YOU FOLLOW ADDITIONAL STEPS BEFORE HAND.One of which is notifying the FAA and air management authority of the airfield.” This is so they can clear/redirect traffic around your area at the date and time requested, notify pilots of your activities so they can be prepared to avoid. Etc. Depending on your plans, some flight corridors simply can not be stopped for you, and you will be denied. But its only very narrow, specific areas.

      2. [smart alex], you are correct in that my statement applied only to model aircraft. And I believe the vast majority of “drone” fliers out there are just doing it as a hobby so they fall into that category. I do not know the regulations that apply to ultralights, general aviation, or commercial sUAS use, so I won’t be making arguments about that.

        I’d also like to point out that there is a huge difference between airports. For example, most afternoons my local airport has one or two small (4-seat or less) planes around it per hour. I don’t fly gliders at my local park so I am always below 400 feet, and usually flying lower than the treetops. I can see and avoid those planes easily and pose no threat to their safety. That is very different from, let’s say, the 5-mile radius around a huge airport like JFK or O’Hare. Those skies are extremely busy and pilots and people in the tower have more than enough to worry about without needing to consider someone’s errant RC model wandering into their approach path. I would never fly a model in those areas.

        To clarify my general position: I believe some rules are necessary to provide separation between small unmanned aerial vehicles and larger planes. That makes absolute sense to keep air passengers (and ground-dwellers) safe. I also think rules are needed to prevent people from flying over crowds and people not participating in the RC modeling hobby… that’s just a dumb thing to do and is asking for trouble. But the current FAA interpretation is not sensible and will not be effective in doing those things. What we need is to establish sensible rules, educate the flying public about them, and enforce them.

    2. DING DING DING!!!! We have a winner. THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE RULE SAYS. There is no paraphrasing here folks: ” when flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport
      operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the
      airport) with prior notice of the operation (model aircraft operators flying from a permanent
      location within 5 miles of an airport should establish a mutually-agreed upon operating
      procedure with the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic
      facility is located at the airport ”
      You can indeed fly within 5 miles so long as you INFORM, NOT ASK, the airport and its control tower (if it has one) that you will be flying nearby. That is because there is NO LAW in place saying that it is illegal to do so. There are laws about interfering with flight, and if you do so, you would be duly and rightfully punished. But I get soooooo sick of hearing people parrot the wrong version of this rule.
      People have been flying R/C planes for a long time now, not one incidence. But now we must pay for the sins of the stupid newcomers to the hobby. As if a registration number some how magically fixes stupidity and makes the laws we already have to punish stupid people somehow better….

  4. Here’s a fun thing: instead of “model aircraft”, pretend the FAA is talking about completed Lego creations. Pretend that the “problem” they’re trying to solve is that of stepping on Lego pieces.

    Lego kits are the DJI Phantom’s and other ready to fly model aircraft. Stepping on a Lego piece is the same as when a quadcopter is hit by a landing 747.

    FAA: Lego, you must now have each kit you sell certified. You must prove that you’ve designed systems that prevent those Lego creations from being strewn about and left on the floor.

    Lego: You do realize that our Lego kits are just made up of smaller parts, don’t you? Like, you don’t actually need the kit itself to build a Lego creation?

    FAA: We don’t give a damn about a single part, we want you to make it impossible to step on a part. So we’ll need you to glue those things together, and make them soft and rubbery while you’re at it.

    Rather than focus on the behavior, the FAA is focusing on the “thing.” Regulating the “thing” doesn’t change human behavior. If these proposed rules were laws, I could legally build an quadcopter from commodity parts and do all the stupid things those laws are meant to prevent.

    If the FAA proposed rules that were more like “Don’t fly your things within 3 miles of an airport” I’d probably feel a lot better about the FAA involvement in my hobby. In other words, propose rules that directly address penalizing/preventing undesired behavior.

    1. Having met an FAA representative and talking at length, I can assure you, this is not the case.
      Drone is just a buzzword. Until recently, the FAA was not that concerned about model aircraft, as most builders were considerate of the airspace and the safety of people and property around them. If drone operators stuck to flying club air-fields, we would not have this problem. But no.. they had to go flying at cloud levels from their back yards… over highways, into crowded events and crashing into protected geological sites.
      Most of these “new laws” are just adjustments of existing laws, or consolidation of existing laws which had previously been too general to enforce.
      Safety zones around airports has been there for decades. Private aircraft of any type have had operation ceilings and floors, and certain restrictions about flying over populated areas, sports arenas, etc.
      Model aircraft have always fit into those same sets of rules.
      But model aircraft pilots never were in danger of violating most of those rules anyway, either by the technical limitations of their models or by the strong fellowship training and awareness of the flying clubs in which most modelers were a part of. A “first timer” getting their first plane model at a shop is likely going to be pressured into going to a meetup so they can learn how to fly.
      Drones and model airplanes/helicopters are one in the same. UAS. The only issue causing the FAA to move forward is the fact that with a huge boom in drone owners (several hundred times more than airplane/heli modelers by now Id wager), the statistical risk is increasing rapidly.
      I can think of at least 5 MAJOR news stories reported in the last year in which someone was injured. At least two serious.
      How many times do you read news stories about a model airplane striking someone? Virtually never.

      1. I agree with most of what you’ve said with one exception: your assertion that what I said about the FAA regulating “things” instead of “behaviors” isn’t what the FAA is doing.

        If the FAA was actually focused on regulating behaviors, why the requirement that manufacturers certify their devices to have all sorts of controls in them that the model aircraft operator has zero control over? That’s what I consider to be regulating a “thing”.

        I’ll concede that maybe it’s possible that this is the only thing they are able to do at this point. Maybe it’s futile to regulate behavior, and maybe increasing the obstacles reduces the odds that stupid people will do stupid things with model aircraft.

        Overall, the entire thing bugs me the same way things like DRM bugs me. Government/industry sees a “problem” and deploys a “solution.” That solution typically negatively impacts the majority of people, the ones who aren’t part of the problem. That solution typically is easily circumventable by those who the solution was intended to stop from contributing to the problem in the first place.

        I’m not arguing that people aren’t doing stupid things with “drones” – I’m suggesting that the solution to stopping those people from doing stupid things is likely going to have a chilling effect on the hobby and those who earn a living supporting it.

        Note also that just because you’re not hearing about model airplanes striking people in the news doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Cruise through sites like RCGroups enough and you’ll see plenty of accounts of injuries received from “non-drones”. It’s just not sexy enough for news outlets when it’s not an evil scary drone.

  5. Two paragraphs into that cited report makes me think the writers of said report don’t understand statistics either
    . or.. Reality.

    And in the bigger picture, it’s not just about a human strike event. It’s property damage as well.

  6. I missed the Congress telling NASA to land on Europa thing. Kinda silly but probably won’t do any real harm unless they inadvertently cause the creation of a second sun.

  7. As a FAA licensed pilot since 1959, the fact I had to register in 2016 to fly Flite Test, Brooklyn Aerodrome and other Dollar Tree foam scratch built rc airplanes is insane. Not pissed enough to land my Bensen on the white house lawn. Just say ‘n.

    1. Don’t expect that $5 fee and that registration number to protect your civil aviation butt from dumb asses who will either not register to begin with or register and still do stupid stuff.

      Just think about one of the most heavily regulated activities most of us engage in every single day.. DRIVING. Now look at your local police log at the number of violations written for any number of misdeeds…

      Amazing how terribly paper protects you isn’t it?

    1. From pages 63/64 of the proposed rules PDF:

      ‘‘(b) CONSIDERATIONS.—In developing the consensus
      aircraft safety standards, the Director and Administrator
      shall consider the following:

      ‘‘(5) Means to prevent tampering with or modi-
      fication of any system, limitation, or other safety
      mechanism or standard under this section or any
      other provision of law, including a means to identify
      any tampering or modification that has been made.

      That looks more like an invitation for rules to be written than an outright ban on consumer modifications to UAS. But I can see it allowing rules overtly hostile to open source flight controllers.

    2. I think it simply changes things how we think about and describe things.

      What’s an open source flight controller anyhow? It’s a microcontroller that receives input data from sensors and produces RC flavored PWM signals. That sort of controller can be used for all sorts of things.

      I’ve thrown a KK Multicopter controller on an RC car, for example, to help stability over rough terrain. I’ve used Multiwii based controllers to keep body mounted cameras stable.

      So rather than developer a flight controller, develop an “orientation” controller.

  8. Amurika – LAND OF THE FREE!!! Well, the government hasn’t done much, let’s take for instance, reducing or eliminating mass shootings… But they sure act fast on this. Well that reminds me, since I won’t be able to fly my RC helicopter anymore, I guess I will get into large guns as my next hobby – I just like hobbies that turn money into noise I guess.

  9. Da’ Man took away my, copter. Da’ Man took away my router. Da’ Man be sniffin’ my iPhone. Da’ Man be watchin’ my power meter. Da’ Man tracks me when I drive. Da’ Man decides who my doctor is…. But Da’ Man legalized my dope. So he be OK wid me.

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