It’s here! After years of delays, the FAA released its notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for sUAS on February 15, 2015. I am writing this column less than 24 hours after the document was made public. Although we are still sifting through the 195-page proposed rule and have a number of questions, at first glance we are cautiously optimistic as to how it relates to recreational enthusiasts.
Since the beginning of the regulatory process in 2008, the path that got us to where we are today took several unusual twists and turns. AMA’s position from the very beginning was, and will always be, “No modeler left behind!”
Along the way, AMA and the FAA were able to address a number of concerns and came together to find reasonable solutions that satisfied both. Many of these concerns revolved around the turbine, large model aircraft, and Soaring communities. We were able to resolve these concerns because the FAA looked favorably on AMA programs that managed these communities, and a strong safety program that has stood the test of time for nearly 80 years.
In 2008, the FAA’s initial thoughts were that it would “regulate model aviation by exempting it from regulation.” That position went by the wayside and, as the regulatory process progressed, the FAA leaned toward a comprehensive set of “operating standards” that would be the guidance for modelers.
AMA and some dedicated AMA volunteers representing many of the aeromodelng disciplines worked for the better part of two years alongside the FAA in developing those standards. The work was tedious, sometimes tense, and was made more difficult by frequent turnover in personnel within the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office (UASIO), the office within the FAA charged with drafting these new rules. In fact, during the project, even the department’s name changed from the Unmanned Aircraft Program Office to what it is today.
In 2010, recognizing the challenges we were facing, AMA asked Congress for its support. In February 2012, after nearly two years of hard work, Congress passed and President Barak Obama signed into law the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act. Within this act is Section 336, titled the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (the AMA amendment).
This amendment, while recognizing the FAA’s authority over anyone—including model aviation enthusiasts—who could be an eminent danger to other users of the airspace, limited the FAA’s ability to promulgate any new rule or regulation for model aircraft operating in the airspace. Shortly after the passage of this act—and in part due to a change in management within the UASIO—the FAA’s position began to shift away from the requirement that there be a hard set of safety standards for model aircraft.
We find ourselves today, nearly seven years after the process began, looking at a proposed rule from which, for the most part, model aviation is exempt. As the administrator said in his press conference, “… this proposed rule does not affect those who want to fly model aircraft as a hobby or for recreation.” It appears AMA and the FAA found a way to regulate model aviation by exempting it from regulation.
Although we are optimistic, there is a long way to go—likely 18 months or longer—before this proposed rule is finalized. There is a period for public comment in which the FAA expects to receive more than 100,000 comments in response to the proposal. It’s possible that the FAA may make some modification to the proposed rule based on these comments.
AMA is also intent on working with the FAA to resolve the differences we have with the FAA’s Interpretive Rule issued in June 2014. The Interpretive Rule is the FAA’s interpretation of the provisions in the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, and there a few areas where we believe the FAA may be misinterpreting Congress’ intent when it included the special rule in the 2012 act.
By the time this issue of Model Aviation reaches you, we will have had at least one meeting with the FAA where we will try to find reasonable solutions to both of our concerns.
Early reaction to the NPRM from most within the modeling and sUAS community is favorable. AMA believes that, outside of a few items needing clarification, this is a good start to a long-term solution for model aviation enthusiasts.
AMA has invested significant resources in both manpower and dollars in advocating for, and working toward, the goal of aeromodelers continuing to enjoy model aviation much as we have in the past. The NPRM is a good step toward making that happen.
See you next time …