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Monday, February 6, 2012

New FAA Legistion Avoids Regulating "Modelers"

Good news!  Despite concentrated efforts by the AMA to make it illegal for non-AMA members to fly RC models in the United States, new FAA legislation does no such thing.

I've documented the entire FAA rule set, below.  The most important parts to read are the final two paragraphs in blue, below, which state the current FAA Policy as it applies to RC modelers.  In summary, as a "modeler" your legal authority to operate radio control aircraft within the U.S. National Airspace System is FAA AC 91-57

That is all you need to fly.  Enjoy!!





Documentation follows, the underlined text was emphasized by Z8RC and the blue text is what applies to RC modelers:

Current FAA Policy divides all UAS Operations into three (3) overarching categories:
  1. Military/Public/Government Aircraft
  2. Civil Aircraft
  3. Model Aircraft
FAA Policy Statement
The current FAA policy for UAS operations is that no person may operate a UAS in the National Airspace System without specific authority. For UAS operating as public aircraft the authority is the COA, for UAS operating as civil aircraft the authority is special airworthiness certificates, and for model aircraft the authority is AC 91-57.
    Within the three categories, the FAA has defined sub-categories.  The FAA's FACT SHEET on UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEMS (UAS), Updated July 2011 defines both "Military/Public/Government Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)" and "Civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)" sub-categories for this purpose:
    "Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) come in a variety of shapes and sizes and serve diverse purposes. They may have a wingspan as large as a Boeing 737 or be smaller than a radio-controlled model aircraft. A designated pilot in command is always in control of a UAS.
    Historically, UAS have mainly supported military and security operations overseas, with training occurring in the United States. In addition, UAS are utilized in U.S. border and port surveillance by the Department of Homeland Security, scientific research and environmental monitoring by NASA and NOAA, public safety by law enforcement agencies, research by state universities, and various other uses by public (government) agencies.
    Interest is growing in civil uses, including commercial photography, aerial mapping, crop monitoring, advertising, communications and broadcasting. Unmanned aircraft systems may increase efficiency, save money, enhance safety, and even save lives.
    In the United States alone, approximately 50 companies, universities, and government organizations are developing and producing over 155 unmanned aircraft designs."
    For the sake of absolute clarity, the FAA-stated sub-categories to "Category 1. Military/Public/Government UAS Operations" and "Category 2. Civil UAS Operations" are:
    1. Military and security operations overseas with training in the US
    2. U.S. border and port surveillance by the Department of Homeland Security
    3. Scientific research and environmental monitoring by NASA and NOAA
    4. Public safety by law enforcement agencies
    5. Research by state universities
    6. Other uses by public (government) agencies
    7. Commercial photography
    8. Aerial mapping
    9. Crop monitoring
    10. Advertising
    11. Communications and broadcasting
    12. Part of a company, state university, or government organization
    In summary - if your model aircraft does not fall into one of the sub-categories for Category 1 or Category 2, then you can operate it under Category 3, Model Aircraft.  As a modeler, your sole legal authority to integrate with the FAA NAS comes from FAA AC 91-57.   

    AMA membership is irrelevant to the FAA to operate a model aircraft in the NAS, but make no mistake, AMA members and all permanent club locations must comply with FAA AC 91-57 or they may not legally integrate with the NAS.  My advice to all permanent AMA club flying locations is to post a copy of FAA AC 91-57 where your AMA members can see and read it.  If you cannot reasonably clear the location IAW 91-57 guidance, halt model aircraft operations until you can obtain an FAA waiver.

    Any modeler flying from a non-permanent location should clear that location under 91-57 guidelines and carry a copy of 91-57 to document general FAA compliance.   You should not fly in areas prohibited by 91-57 without an FAA Waiver.  

    Note that the word "should" is not legally prohibitive in FAA FARs.  However, just because a person is legally operating a model aircraft under 91-57 doesn't mean they are immune to a safety violation by the FAA.  

    The new FAA regulations, often cited by the AMA in an attempt to bolster plunging memberships, only attempt to regulate and integrate "CIVIL UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEMS (UAS)" into the National Airspace System (NAS).  Those laws apply only to Category 2, Civil UAS Operations not modelers, so most won't care. 

    The AMA was successful in inserting a "Special Rule" under the Civil UAS regulatory bill using a "notwithstanding" clause. "Notwithstanding" simply means "nevertheless" or "all the same" or "with no change to the previous."  Since the governing FAA Policy for Civil UAS Ops does not apply to Category 3 Modelers," as a modeler you will never need to invoke the AMA-dictated Civil Aircraft Special Rule unless
    1. You fall into one of the Civil UAS Operational sub-categories (7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12)
    2. You require a FAA Waiver to FAA AC 91-57 "Model Aircraft Operations"
    Examples of those who might try to invoke the Civil UAS Ops Special Rule would be one doing beyond of light-of-sight FPV flying (not allowed under stated FAA expectations to fall under 91-57) or advertising for a company as a company-sponsored RC team member (Sub-Category #10 falls under Civil UAS Operations). 

    Interestingly, company-sponsored RC team members (those compensated with pay or other legal consideration) are excluded from the Special Rule, meaning they need to become FAA licensed as a Pilot in Command (PIC) and obtain an FAA Waiver because they do (#10) advertising for (#12) a company.  People or RC clubs that interface with commercial entities during RC modeling activities should contact their local FAA representative to obtain the Waivers they need to fly in the NAS.

    FAA Advisory Circular 91-57 governs Model Aircraft Operations.  Additionally, the FAA recorded their opinion (here) that FAA AC 91-57 is not applicable to any of the 12 sub-categories.  Here is that language, for those interested: 
    "Recreational/Sport Use of Model Airplanes
    In 1981, in recognition of the safety issues raised by the operation of model aircraft, the FAA published Advisory Circular (AC) 91-57, Model Aircraft Operating Standards for the purpose of providing guidance to persons interested in flying model aircraft as a hobby or for recreational use. This guidance encourages good judgment on the part of operators so that persons on the ground or other aircraft in flight will not be endangered. The AC contains among other things, guidance for site selection. Users are advised to avoid noise sensitive areas such as parks, schools, hospitals, and churches. Hobbyists are advised not to fly in the vicinity of spectators until they are confident that the model aircraft has been flight tested and proven airworthy. Model aircraft should be flown below 400 feet above the surface to avoid other aircraft in flight. The FAA expects that hobbyists will operate these recreational model aircraft within visual line-of-sight. While the AC 91-57 was developed for model aircraft, some operators have used the AC as the basis for commercial flight operations.
    FAA Policy Statement
    The current FAA policy for UAS operations is that no person may operate a UAS in the National Airspace System without specific authority. For UAS operating as public aircraft the authority is the COA, for UAS operating as civil aircraft the authority is special airworthiness certificates, and for model aircraft the authority is AC 91-57.
    The FAA recognizes that people and companies other than modelers might be flying UAS with the mistaken understanding that they are legally operating under the authority of AC 91-57. AC 91-57 only applies to modelers, and thus specifically excludes its use by persons or companies for business purposes."
    Print your copy of FAA AC 91-57 here to carry or post it at your local flying club; comply and you are 100% legal.  Fly safe!
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