This is probably the single most prevalent question posed by the aeromodeling enthusiast when discussing the inclusion of model airplanes in the proposed small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) regulation. Why is it necessary to regulate model aviation?

Some would question FAA’s authority to do this; however, there are several acts of law that give the FAA authority over the National Airspace System (NAS). In terms of their intent to regulate model airplanes, the FAA references the definition of an “aircraft,” which comprises “any contrivance that is capable of sustained flight in the airspace.” And model airplanes, specifically radio controlled model airplanes, are viewed as capable of sustained flight and able to navigate the airspace. As such, radio controlled model aircraft as with all unmanned aircraft are deemed to fall within the FAA’s jurisdiction.

Though the FAA may have the authority to regulate model aircraft (MA), in our opinion they have not yet made a clear and compelling case for doing so. By in large the FAA’s rationale for regulating MA is:

  • 1) The FAA is mandated to maintain the safety of the NAS and believe that AC 91-57 is no longer adequate to ensure safe MA operations.
  • 2) Advancements in the capability of MA and the technological enhancements in the hobby present new and as yet unaddressed safety concerns.
  • 3) There is a need to safely integrate ALL unmanned aircraft into the NAS.

    AMA contends that:

  • 1) AC 91-57 has NEVER served as nor has it proven to be an effective or practical safety tenet. The mere existence of the advisory circular is virtually unknown to the vast majority of aeromodeling enthusiasts and has only recently gained identity due to the sUAS rulemaking process.
  • 2) MA operate under a community-based set of safety guidelines (AMA Safety Code) that encompasses the “spirit” of AC 91-57* (see description below), has evolved to effectively address the advancements in the hobby, and to date has achieved a superb safety record.
  • 3) MA are distinctly different from commercial and public use unmanned aircraft and do not pose the safety concerns and operational issues presented by these platforms. As such, it is unwarranted and unreasonable to lump MA into the regulatory arena with these devices.

    Through self governance, common sense and a responsible approach to the hobby, model aviation has existed safely, effectively and harmoniously in the NAS for more than 75 years, and has the safety record to prove it. There is no data, no single incident nor catastrophic accident to warrant regulating this purely recreational activity enjoyed by thousands of Americans, young and old.

    *AC 91-57 – FAA Advisory Circular entitled, “Model Aircraft Operating Standards”, dated June 9, 1981. This advisory circular outlines and encourages voluntary compliance with safety standards for model aircraft operators.

    -Rich Hanson, AMA Government Relations and Regulatory Affairs Representative