In a telephonic press conference held Sunday, February 15, 2015, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced FAA’s long-awaited proposed regulation for the operation of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS).
If instituted, the proposed rule would establish the safety regulations and procedures for operating nonrecreational, unmanned aircraft weighing 55 pounds or less.
The rule would limit flights to less than 100 mph, below 500 feet, during daylight hours only, and within visual line of sight of the operator. UAS operators would also be required to pass an aeronautical knowledge test and obtain a UAS operator’s certificate.
In accordance with the Special Rule for Model Aircraft established by Congress, the new rules would not apply to model aircraft operated within the safety programming of a nationwide community-based organization. This is good news for AMA members; however, model aircraft operators must continue to satisfy all of the criteria specified in the Special Rule, including the stipulation that that model aircraft be operated only for hobby or recreational purposes and must remain within visual line of sight.
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) does reference FAA’s interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, published in June 2014, and asserts FAA’s authority to use existing regulations to enforce unsafe acts that endanger the National Airspace System (NAS). This would include the use of regulations such as 14 CFR 91-13 that prohibits the careless and reckless operation of an aircraft and other regulations that relate to yielding the right-of-way to manned aircraft and operations within designated airspace.
The AMA has taken exception to several aspects of FAA’s interpretation which led to AMA petitioning the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., in August 2014, for a judicial review of the Interpretive Rule. The court currently is holding this case in abeyance until the FAA has completed and adjudicated the public comments submitted in response to the agency’s interpretation.
The extent to which the NPRM excludes model aircraft from regulation depends in large part to the resolution of several key elements of the Interpretive Rule. The areas of greatest concern are FAA’s interpretation that …
• Asserts model aircraft to be “aircraft” as defined in U.S. Code Title 49 and in Sec. 331 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, and effectively makes model airplanes subject to all regulations applicable to aircraft.
• Makes model aircraft subject to airspace requirements and restrictions that have never been applicable in the past and with which it is impossible or impractical to comply.
• Effectively changes the criteria for operating within 5 miles of an airport from the stated requirement of providing prior “notification” to a requirement of obtaining prior permission.
• Narrowly defines “hobby and recreation” and puts in question the activities of the supporting aeromodeling industry and AMA’s educational programs.
• Rigidly defines the requirement to operate within visual line of sight and targets the use of a specific aeromodeling technology/equipment, namely first-person view (FPV) goggles.
Overall, the AMA views the proposed sUAS rule as a positive step toward enabling the civil operation of unmanned aircraft in the NAS. We encourage members to submit comments supporting the proposed rule and commending the FAA for appropriately separating model aviation from the new regulation. However, AMA would also encourage members to include in their comments the need to resolve the discrepancies stemming from the Interpretive Rule before finalizing the sUAS rule.
Comments to the proposed sUAS rule can be made by going to www.regulations.gov and searching for Docket No. FAA-2015-0150; Notice No. 15-01. Read the proposed rule carefully and submit comments on areas where you have a concern as well as thoughtful and productive comments in areas where you feel there could be improvement.
Unless extended, the public comment period is open for 60 days. The deadline for submitting comments is 11:59 p.m. Friday, April 24, 2015.
Government and Regulatory Affairs