FAA issues guidance on ‘hazardous’ operations of model aircraft

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The FAA today published a Federal Register notice on its interpretation of the special rules for model aircraft, in response to recent incidents involving the reckless use of unmanned model aircraft near airports and involving large crowds of people, according to officials with the agency.

Compliance with these rules for model aircraft operators has been required since the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 was signed, and “the explanation provided today does not change that fact,” FAA officials said in a released statement.

The FAA is issuing the notice to provide clear guidance to model operators on the “do’s and don’ts” of flying safely and to answer many of the questions it has received regarding the scope and application of the rules, officials note.

“We want people who fly model aircraft for recreation to enjoy their hobby – but to enjoy it safely,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “At the Department of Transportation, we often say that safety is a shared responsibility, so to help, we are providing additional information today to make sure model aircraft operators know exactly what’s expected of them.”

In the notice, the FAA restates the law’s definition of “model aircraft,” including requirements that they not interfere with manned aircraft, be flown within sight of the operator and be operated only for hobby or recreational purposes. The agency also explains that model aircraft operators flying within five miles of an airport must notify the airport operator and air traffic control tower.

The FAA reaffirms that the provisions apply only to hobby or recreation operations and do not authorize the use of model aircraft for commercial operations, officials note. The notice gives examples of hobby or recreation flights, as well as examples of operations that would not meet that definition.

“We have a mandate to protect the American people in the air and on the ground, and the public expects us to carry out that mission,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

The law is clear that the FAA may take enforcement action against model aircraft operators who operate their aircraft in a manner that endangers the safety of the national airspace system. In the notice, the FAA explains that this enforcement authority is designed to protect users of the airspace as well as people and property on the ground.

The FAA will be working with its inspectors and model aircraft operators across the country to ensure they give standard information to the public on how to satisfy these statutory requirements and avoid endangering the safety of the nation’s airspace.

The FAA is also developing a plan to work with the law enforcement community to help them understand the FAA’s rules for unmanned aircraft systems, as well as the special statutory rules for model aircraft operators, so they can more effectively protect public safety.

The agency noted it its released statement that the public can contact the Aviation Safety Hotline website or call 866-835-5322, Option 4, with concerns about UAS operations.

While today’s notice is immediately effective, the agency said it welcomes comments. The comment period closes 30 days from publication in the Federal Register.

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