[headline: Concerns with FAA’s rule interpretation]
By now, most of you should be aware of FAA’s Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft issued on June 23, 2014. A key point is that this recent, 17-page document is the FAA’s interpretation of the special rule. It is not law.
AMA has a number of concerns with this interpretation. Our primary concern is that the interpretive rule appears to be creating new rules for model aircraft that are in direct conflict with the Special Rule and Congress’ intent as to how model aircraft would be managed in the National Airspace System (NAS).
The law clearly states that the FAA may not “promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft” if the model aircraft meets the terms of the provisions in the law and is operated within the programming of a community-based organization.
Apart from the premise that the FAA is essentially creating new rules and regulations for model aircraft, AMA has other concerns with the FAA’s interpretation of the law that could clearly have a negative and damaging impact on model aviation enthusiasts.
Part of our concern is the considerable amount of ambiguity in the interpretive rule’s language which, in many cases, leaves readers unsure of the FAA’s intent. There are some instances that create a clear cause for concern.
Under the interpretation, as a model aircraft enthusiast you could be subject to all the rules and regulations of the NAS, including those intended for full-scale aircraft. If you are a private pilot and are cited for a violation while flying a model aircraft, your full-scale license could be jeopardized.
The interpretive rule requires modelers to get authorization to fly within 5 miles of any one of the more than 17,000 full-scale airports in the US. An airport authority could, for no reason other than because they simply don’t like model aircraft, prohibit your ability to fly within the 5-mile radius, even if the club has been flying at the site for decades.
The interpretive rule subjects model aircraft to all of the rules established for the NAS. To enter Class B airspace, for example, an aircraft operator would need to be licensed, establish two-way radio communication, have a transponder (a device that help controllers better identify an aircraft), or otherwise obtain authorization to operate in the airspace. It’s impossible for a model aircraft to comply with all of these requirements, and in some cases, classes of airspace begin at ground level.
This could eliminate nearly 100 AMA chartered club flying sites that have flown safely in Class B airspace for years, and potentially hundreds more that fly in other controlled airspace.
In its strictest sense, the interpretation comes close to giving the FAA the ability to dictate the layout of club flying sites. It could, in effect, shut down park pilot flying sites in urban areas, and gives the FAA the ability to take enforcement action against a modeler who violates the statute.
Under its interpretation, the FAA may, at its discretion, subjectively apply any rule or regulation created to address full-scale operations to model aircraft. In the strictest sense, this could even require licensing of model aircraft pilots. Although unlikely, it clearly opens the door to that possibility.
There are more examples of concern within the interpretive rule, but these examples are the most egregious. As the FAA has interpreted the law, it could affect thousands or tens of thousands of model aviation enthusiasts and hundreds of AMA chartered clubs.
In mid-July, AMA had the opportunity to meet with the FAA leadership to express its concern and offer suggestions on how some of the ambiguity could be eliminated from its interpretative rule. Although no definitive action resulted from this meeting, we felt that our concerns had been heard and that our suggestions would be seriously considered. We’ll know more after the comment period ends.
AMA has asked Congress for its help in clearing up any confusion that may have prompted the FAA’s Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft. We understand that this is how the FAA is interpreting Congress’ intent. Nonetheless, we believe FAA’s interpretation is in error. AMA will continue to work to resolve those issues because we believe it is in the best interest of our members and all model aviation enthusiasts to do so.
See you next time …