AMA Safety Code and the new Safety Handbook

Yes, we have a new AMA Safety Code, but not really. So why the change? If you read through it, you will find the Safety Code still institutes the same safety principles that have kept our hobby safe for decades. However, it is now much shorter and more succinct than the old Safety Code, and it’s accompanied by a Safety Handbook that contains detailed information about the safety guidelines for each specific aeromodeling discipline.

Throughout the years, as technology advanced and the hobby evolved, the old code grew longer and longer as the creativity among our members flourished. Our goal has always been to keep the code small enough to be printed on a single page; however, the font became so small the code became nearly impossible to read.

As we tried to find a way to preserve its message while keeping it user-friendly, we realized that not every element of the code applies to every member. If that’s true why not publish a code with references to a Safety Handbook that contains information about all aspects of modeling, but is organized so a modeler can go to his or her particular area of interest or specialty for the information needed without wading through everything else?

That was easier to decide than it was to execute! But, the final product, which is effective as of January 1, 2018, has a foreshortened code containing the core safety principles important to all members with references to the Safety Handbook where more detailed information about safety is organized by activity or type of aircraft.

AMA’s safety guidelines are continually reviewed and updated as new technologies emerge and the hobby evolves. In the past, this has created problems in assuring that the latest version of the Safety Code is displayed at flying fields across the country.

With the new structure, the code shouldn’t change as often because the items that tend to change the most are now found in the Safety Handbook, which does not need to be displayed. However, every member should be familiar with the portions of the handbook that pertain to their individual modeling interests, and every club Safety Officer,  CD, and EM should be familiar with the contents of that handbook and have it readily available as events are planned and run.

The Safety Committee is proud of these new documents, but realizes that it will be necessary to continue to review and update both the Safety Code and the Safety Handbook as time goes on.

If you find areas that need clarification or update please notify AMA’s Director of Safety and Member Benefits, Ilona Maine, so that she can pass them on to the committee for review and action.


  1. New safety code makes no mention of complying with TFRs, nor does it mention flights near airports. Considering both have been subject of news reports, it seems a glaring omission.

    1. Page 4 of the Safety Handbook mention airports and states “any time or place where model aircraft operations are prohibited”. As a member of the AMA I would think the assumption would be you would be researching any TFR’s that could be part of that statement.

      1. Dave Smith – while you may have been trying to be helpful, your comments as read seem condescending.
        I can tell you that I have read, and read, and read some more, and it’s still about as clear as mud to me.
        Assume what you may, but if you take everything that’s out there by the letter of the law, and the information on airmaps, there’s a postage stamp in North Dakota that you might be able to fly legally.

  2. Something missing from this sentence:

    Models using advanced flight systems allowing
    for automated or flight are permitted by AMA,
    provided the pilot remains in direct control and
    flies within visual line of sight.

    1. Thank you for bringing this to our attention! The sentence should read “Models using advanced flight systems allowing for automated or pre-programmed flight are permitted by AMA provided the pilot remains in direct control and flies within visual line of sight.” We will update the information and upload a corrected version of the handbook shortly!

  3. The link to Flying Site Recommendations on page 11 of the handbook did not work.

    I did not check any of the other links. They may work for staff because the file is on your network, but not work fro outsiders. The files must be on a publicly accessible site.

    I’ve had the same problem with EndlessLift, where photos stored on my personal computer showed for me, but not for anybody else, until I uploaded them to the main site media file folder.

  4. This represents a lot of hard work by the Safety Committee and staff. The Handbook is a beautiful presentation. I thank and commend everyone involved in this project.

    I have always been uncomfortable with the old one page Safety Code. It didn’t address anything I did at all. There are so many disciplines within model aviation that there is almost nothing in common except “I will not fly a model aircraft in a careless or reckless manner.” Writing a Safety Code is a lot like writing competition regulations. There are a few general regulations and many specific regulations for each competition class. The general Safety Code could dispense with all references to particular disciplines, except for a section listing disciplines and a reference to the Handbook and its links for particulars. Even the Handbook can’t contain everything, it includes many links to specialized pages.

  5. Putting all the safety regulations together would make a small book. I just got the “Official Model Aircraft Regulations 1978-79” down and it is 100 pages.

  6. Where do we get a copy of this hand book ? I am at the present time not a member of an club
    do to health problems and I am a FF rubber power small field person as a normal endeavor so I some times just to my own back lot to test the planes I scratch build and most are not larger than a walnut scale and are normally smaller.

  7. Regarding FPV and spotters, the rules as written make sense for larger fixed wing and very large quadcopters. However for the small (4″ or 100mm) quads flying FPV, having a spotter makes little sense. Once these tiny quads are flown via goggles they quickly become impossible for a spotter to see, so mandating that a spotter stand alongside an FPV pilot provides no added value. A 4″ quad being flown FPV at any reasonable distance can not be flown LOS because you can not see it’s orientation. Imagine an FPV race with 6 pilots navigating through a course. What value would it be to have 6 additional spotters standing next to them with a buddy box?

    1. As I am sure you are aware, the typical smaller UAS/drone quads in the Nano/Micro class 70mm – 110mm size weigh between 50 grams – 120 grams and are capable of flying at speeds of 50 to 125 mph. The kinetic energy the drones have at these speeds pose a safety risk of doing serious harm upon accidental impact with people, property or other aircraft. To mitigate these risks, federal regulations and AMA’s flight operational rules require that remote pilots maintain VLOS with their sUAS/drone throughout its flight and are prepared to navigate their sUAS to avoid collisions.

      A 100mm/4” drone can be seen by a spotter or remote pilot at the permitted altitude of 400 ft. AGL and at greater horizontal distances from the remote pilot. Once a person learns to fly a small drone and any model aircraft for that matter, they remain aware of its orientation by observing not only the aircraft but its trajectory and can alter that trajectory to avoid conflicts. Please refer to AMA document 540-D “See and Avoid Guidance”.

      It should be understood that a Spotter, not only maintains VLOS of the sUAS/drone for the remote pilot, who is controlling the sUAS within the visual limitation of goggles, but the Spotter is monitoring all the airspace surrounding the sUAS while in flight.

      There is no requirement for the use of a buddy box except as stated in AMA document #550 (Section 2b) for training novice FPV pilots at low altitudes only. I do agree that for FPV racing at low altitudes below tree tops and within the boundaries of a typical race course, do not require 6 spotters for 6 FPV pilots. We are recommending that one spotter is capable of seeing all the airspace and surroundings of the race course for up to three pilots and that two spotters can spot for 8 FPV pilots to achieve the necessary risk mitigation. This will be a part of revisions to AMA document #550.

      If you should have any further questions or recommendations, please contact me.

      Thank you for your input.

      Andy Argenio
      AMA Advanced Flight Systems

      1. Thanks for your feedback. I am fairly new to FPV and drones so this is a learning experience for me. Safety extremely important, it is my number one concern. I agree that airspace and general situational awareness is very important. From what I have seen of FPV/quads, especially the ti ny ones, most people dont fly them anywhere near the 400’AGL limit, in fact most seem to be flown low and below the tree line, often through the woods. I have had spotters tell me that, sure they will help, but they cant see the quad at all once it gets out at any typical distance from the pilot. Yes they can give situational awareness, but that’s about it. Ive lost some small quads while having a spotter. The spotter had no idea which direction to look, as they could not see or hear it. Thanks for insight and I look forward to the revisions.

  8. We fly jets, giants and small models on our local Village owned basic airport. We fly in the general Airport vicinity, in the full-scale air corridors and even off the Airport’s main runway. We actually have established an RC Park in the Village’s Recreation Plan. Most of the time, we do not have a lot of full-scale traffic. But, occasionally we do. We have coordinated with the State MDOT Aeronautics Division and the Airport Authority. We have established “Operational Rules” that we brief all model pilots on before they get unescorted access to the site. We also train our spotters that their main job is to watch for full-scale aircraft and keep our models clear of the full-scale air corridors when a full-scale plane is operating in the airport’s approach and landing airspace or on the ground. If a spotter is just watching the model, we coach them a bit (e.g. Spotters need to be primarily looking at where the model is going to be rather than where it is at, etc..) If a pilot is competent using a radio to listen to full-scale radio traffic, we also use hand-held full-scale aircraft communication radios (AvComm) in lieu of spotters. During events, when there are several models in the air at the same time, we use both spotters and AvComm, establishing the Airport’s “Tower” to integrate RC and full-scale traffic. Our FPV course is set up such that all FPV operation is done out of the Airport’s approach and landing corridors. If operating FPV and you do not have AvComm operating or fly off the FPV Course, then a spotter is required. We also greet and support our full-scale pilots (e.g. visit with them, provide transportation occasionally, always treat them with respect, support their full-scale fly-ins/events, etc..) At our site, the full-scale guys and the model pilots appear to be happy. IMHO, cooperative airspace integration, mixed with some common sense, flexibility and education on our end, is going to be the key to our long term future.

    1. The Safety Handbook is mainly an online document, which will allow members to access the most current version. We will include some copies when mailing out the Safety Code posters in April.

      1. I like the old January 2014. It covered EVERYTHING. This new safety book is like an edited “brochure”. Just being HONEST.

  9. I can understand Daniel’s feeling but the newer generations we need to attract to the hobby seem to have short attention spans and a shorter more concise manual is more likely to be read. Is the new manual perfect? Heck no but it is a start. Will it continue to be a living document repeatedly revisited and modified? You bet! Like anything designed by committee it is a series of compromises with a target audience in mind.

  10. I am disappointed that safety rule B1 (flying over people and property) is gone. Heads up everyone!

  11. I’m sorry AMA. There was a reason the old safety code worked so well for a long time. The way they were written made a lot of sense and was very specific. There are a lot of gray areas here that could be confusing.

  12. Thanks for the info and the work put into it. I copied the links to the hand book as well as the safety code into a note for our club’s FaceBook page. Going to find and use other methods so that every member has this info readily available. Thinking about having a credit card sized contact list made to hand out to all members so the phone numbers are readily available in event of a safety issue or other emergency. The other side of the card I’m trying to imagine it being like a quick cheat sheet on a sequence of actions a member should take when a safety or other emergency occurs at our field. Got any suggestions?

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