FAA Works To Enhance Model Aircraft Oversight

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As the FAA is creating new rules to govern unmanned aircraft systems, questions have arisen about the proliferation of model aircraft, which can have wingspans up to 20 feet and run on multiple small jet engines. Inexpensive, ready-to-fly toy UASs, many controlled by smartphone apps or tablets, have expanded the attraction of the hobby. The FAA has no jurisdiction over these aircraft. In the 2012 FAA reauthorization act, Congress stipulated that model aircraft can be operated according to "community-based standards." This week, the FAA said it will work together with the Academy for Model Aeronautics, a 77-year-old nonprofit, to ensure that hobby aircraft are operated safely.

Under the agreement, AMA will serve as a focal point for the aero-modeling community, the hobby industry and the FAA to communicate relevant and timely safety information. AMA will establish and maintain a comprehensive safety program for its members, including guidelines for emerging technologies. The group also agreed to foster a "positive and cooperative environment" with modelers toward the FAA and any applicable regulations. The FAA will review and advise on the AMA safety program, working via the UAS Integration Office to address any mutual issues or concerns. The FAA said it also will educate its field employees about the latest aero-modeling technologies and operating standards to foster a reciprocal cooperative attitude toward the AMA.

The FAA reauthorization act (PDF) defined model aircraft as "an unmanned aircraft that is (1) capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere; (2) flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and (3) flown for hobby or recreational purposes." Model aircraft are limited to 55 pounds unless they are certified by a flight test and inspection program, and all models must always give way to manned aircraft. The act also establishes protocols for operating within 5 miles of an airport. An Advisory Circular issued by the FAA in 1981 (PDF) limits model aircraft to operating within 400 feet AGL.