Model Aircraft are not Drones

Recently, the AMA posted a blog post featuring comments from AMA President Bob Brown, in response to an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times. The editorial proposed that drone proliferation by amateurs in the National Airspace System (NAS) raises an issue that has received too little attention: the threat that they could be used to carry out terrorist attacks.

President Brown’s comments were not ignored by author of the op-ed piece, John Villasenor, electrical engineer, UCLA professor and senior fellow at the Center for Technology Innovation, Brookings Institution. Dr. Villasenor was immediately in contact with the AMA, including Rich Hanson, leader of the AMA government relations team. Dr. Villasenor was very interested in learning more about the hobby of aeromodeling and was open to educating himself of the successful safety record of the AMA.

He met with the AMA Executive Council at the Toledo Weak Signals Show in Toledo, Ohio and thanked the AMA for the chance to learn more about the hobby. With his experience, he has modified some of the comments made regarding the hobby, and believes it is important to differentiate model airplanes from other unmanned systems.

As a respected professional in his field, the AMA is eager to work with such influential policy analysts like Dr. Villasenor, and would like to thank him for taking the time to learn more about the hobby, and to voice his opinions regarding the necessity of differentiation. 

Early this week, Dr. Villasenor was interviewed by Neal Conan of National Public Radio, regarding drones, safety and usage. The interview gave great insight to how drones might be used in the future, and allowed him to draw distinction between model aircraft, drones and other unmanned systems. 

In the interview, he pointed out that when discussing drones, model aircraft should not be included in the discussion. He stated, “I think it’s very important to emphasize that model aircrafts are not drones. Model aircraft are flown within the line of sight of, and under the control of a pilot at all times. And so whatever definition someone might adopt of drones, that definition should not include model aircraft.”

“We are thankful to our membership for continuing to support AMA’s ongoing efforts to protect aeromodeling from unnecessary and over-reaching regulation. And we appreciate that experts,  like Professor Villasenor, recognize the differences between what we do as recreational model aviation enthusiasts and the more commercial, public-use aircraft that have been the focus of much of the media’s recent attention. “ states AMA executive director, Dave Mathewson.

AMA has experienced many victories, including the passing a bill that included a provision for model aircraft protecting it from FAA regulations.

To listen to the April 17 NPR interview with John Villasenor, please visit NPR’s website.

Click here to read Bob Brown’s response to the op-ed piece to the Los Angeles Time’s  article.

To learn more about the current status of the NPRM and FAA regulation please visit the AMA Government Relations section of the Academy of Model Aeronautic’s website.


  1. Tuesday evening I was surfing through the cable TV stations and came upon a person voicing his opinion about the very small hexacopter or equivalent application of such. I did not see enough of the segment to learn who this person was, but I suspect a government member.

    His concern was invasion of privacy, and repeatedly mentions the probability of this “thing” flying over our back yards to invade privacy. I wonder what he is doing in his back yard to be so concerned.

    Did any of the AMA officials happen to view this segment of the attempt to stir up the more controversy?

    1. Though I did not see this particular segment, a great deal of attention to the UAS issue has been prompted by the recent passage of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. The same law that includes protection for model aviation also directs the FAA to, “develop a comprehensive plan to safely accelerate the integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system”. And, “provide for the safe integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system as soon as practicable, but not later than September 30, 2015”. This has been seen by many as a rush to deploy this technology in the civil environment and has raised a host of questions regarding privacy, security and civil liberties issues, none of which relates to the current harmonious existence of model aircraft operations.

      Rich Hanson
      AMA Government and REgulatory Affairs

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