FAA, AMA work together on model aircraft/UAS safety

Today’s “model” aircraft are different from what many of us remember from our childhood. Back then, model aircraft were built for collections or display and a daring few even flew them for fun. Today, they can have wingspans approaching 20 feet and run on multiple small jet engines.

A new dimension to model aircraft flying is the advent of inexpensive, ready-to-fly toy or model unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) that almost anyone can purchase and fly. The technology used to control these small UAS has advanced so significantly that many are controlled by applications on smartphones or tablets.

That’s why it made sense for the FAA’s UAS Integration Office and the Academy for Model Aeronautics — the national body for model aviation for 77 years – to work together toward ensuring modelers fly their model aircraft/UAS without any risk to manned aircraft or to people and property on the ground.

On Jan. 12, Jim Williams, head of the UAS Integration Office, and Academy of Model Aeronautics President Bob Brown signed an agreement formalizing a relationship between the FAA and AMA during the AMA’s annual expo in Ontario, Calif.

The FAA believes AMA’s detailed safety procedures promote safe model operations and serve as an excellent resource for AMA members and other non-member model aircraft enthusiasts alike, according to officials.

Under the agreement, AMA will serve as a focal point for the aero-modelling community, the hobby industry and the FAA to communicate safety information. The group will establish and maintain a comprehensive safety program for its members, including guidelines for emerging technologies, such as model UAS. The group also agreed to foster a “positive and cooperative environment” with modelers toward the FAA and any applicable regulations.

For its part, the FAA will review and advise on the AMA safety program, using the UAS Integration Office to address any mutual issues or concerns. The agency also will educate FAA field employees about the latest aero-modelling technologies and operating standards to foster a reciprocal cooperative attitude toward the AMA.

The FAA-AMA pact is important because the 2012 FAA Reauthorization contained language specific to model aircraft, officials noted. Congress mandated that the FAA cannot regulate model aircraft operated according to community-based standards developed by a national organization – a designation that AMA satisfies. Both the FAA and the aircraft modelers’ group believe jointly working to ensure continued safe operation of model aircraft will comply with the congressional directive.

In a broader sense, model aircraft safety is a concern for everyone, regardless of where they fly, whether they are a traditional radio-controlled aircraft or a UAS, FAA officials said.

As Jim Williams noted in his remarks to the group, “Safe model UAS operations will help to ensure that this industry continues to grow and bring the joy of recreational or hobby flying to more people than ever before.”

Comments

  1. Stephen Mann says:

    The AMA does not represent all small UAS operators. Not by a LONG shot. The AMA “guidelines” for UAS requires line of sight only (no GPS guided photo shoots), and that flight be at one of (theirs) approved facilities. (That means, never on a real estate photo shoot). The “M” in their name is MODEL. They are those guys who started out building balsa wood airplanes in their basement, often replicas (I.E. Models) of military aircraft and learning to fly them in a circle at the end of a 50-ft control tether. Simply put, the AMA is afraid of multi-rotor copters with autonomous GPS guided autopilots. They don’t understand their capabilities and will try to force the UAS round peg into their square hole.

    From above:
    As Jim Williams noted in his remarks to the group, “Safe model UAS operations will help to ensure that this industry continues to grow and bring the joy of recreational or hobby flying to more people than ever before.”

    Note the emphasis on Recreational or Hobby flying.

    If the AMA is the only input the FAA has for UAS regulations, UAS operators will realize *fewer* places to fly and flight for compensation (I.E. Real Estate) below 400 ft will *still* be illegal.

    • Stephen,

      Great point – While the AMA may have the pulse of traditional model aircraft operators, they don’t have the same relationship with UAS operators – amateur or otherwise. I think this is a great role for AUVSI – working together with the FAA and AMA to create standards for non-commercial operators. Many of the top UAS manufacturers are active in AUVSI – and can contribute on operating procedures specific to new UAS technology.

      However, commercial operation will most likely remain outside the purview of organizational standards – as it should. I hope that the UAS studies underway at the FAA’s new test sites and other locations will set the stage for smart and practical small UAS operations. Hopefully, future regulations will allow small aircraft to operate at extremely low altitudes under line of sight and without prior clearance – which I think will come to pass. We always tend to think the worst of the FAA, but with significant safety studies and statistics, I think their regulations will create a workable framework.

      Aleks

      • Stephen Mann says:

        No, I do not think the worst from the FAA, but I do expect it from the AMA. The AMA has been hostile to multirotor UAS operations since the start of UAS as a hobby craft. Even to the extent of forbidding them from their AMA sanctioned parks and forbidding GPS guided autopilot operations. It is the naivete of the FAA that I fear, since they are looking to the AMA as a source of authority.

        The technology of the small UAS vehicle is decades ahead of the FAA and the AMA and the combination of the two will be a disaster and still leave commercial use of light, low-altitude operations illegal. In fact, I will predict that AC91-57 will be codified in the FAR’s with even more restrictions on UAS flight than the hobby population enjoys today.

        Personally, I am rooting for Raphael Pirker’s lawsuit to succeed which would establish a floor below which the FAA has no authority to regulate.

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