Anyone who has been following the FAA’s effort to regulate the operation of small unmanned systems (sUAS) will know that this effort has revolved around safety in the national airspace (NAS). AMA has worked with the FAA, and played a significant role in this effort since the creation of the FAA’s sUAS Aviation Rulemaking Committee in early 2008.
AMA guidelines for recreational model aviation will do much to ensure that aeromodeling activities meet the high level of safety that the FAA is looking for.
Today new challenges now face recreational model aviation. Fueled in part by the media, Congress, state legislatures, and even the general public have turned their focus toward civil liberties and privacy issues relating to the use of domestic unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the US.
Most of the recent debate has centered on the public’s reasonable expectation of privacy and the use of UAS to infringe on that expectation. Much of this is a philosophical discussion.
I don’t think the paparazzi are going to be using UAS to snap a picture of me anytime soon, and, if some law enforcement agency is using a UAS to keep tabs on me, then I suppose I should ask myself what I’m doing that would make them want to do that. But I can also understand one’s opinion that using this type of surveillance technology may cross the line of being reasonable. And, yes, I probably would take exception to someone flying a UAS, popping into my yard, and looking in my kitchen window.
It’s important, however, that we don’t lose sight of the fact that this technology can be incredibly useful and valuable. Farmers monitoring crops, power companies inspecting power lines, and firefighters monitoring wildfires are examples of how UAS can be used as an effective means of managing tasks.
In the last few months, many states have begun to consider state-level legislation that would regulate the use of UAS. While likely well-intentioned, some of the language in these proposed bills is so poorly written that, if passed, they would have a negative impact on recreational model aviation and the other activities I’ve mentioned.
The real core of the issue, and the threat to us as recreational model aviation enthusiasts, is public perception. The public looks at an airframe and doesn’t see or understand the difference between a model airplane and a commercial, public-use UAS. And most elected representatives are simply doing their job by reacting to the concerns of their constituents.
Just a little over a month ago there was only one state considering some form of regulation pertaining to the use of UAS in its state. A few short weeks later there were 15 states considering legislation.
AMA’s job in advocating for its members is to reach out to the sponsors of these proposed bills and help them understand that there are significant differences between what we do as recreational users and the types of UAS that could potentially invade someone’s privacy. I think we have an obligation to point out all of the good that can come from advancements in this technology. During the last several years, a number of colleges and universities have developed UAS programs as part of their curriculums. Many students taking part in these programs will be part of this country’s next generation of aviation and aerospace engineers.
Our federal and state representatives need to be careful not to stifle the advancement of these programs or the use of the technology for any number of good things including recreation. Representatives need to carefully draft their proposed legislation. They need to reach out to both the recreational and commercial public-use communities—the recognized experts—and ask for our help in drafting language that only affects the concern that is their focus.
Doing otherwise only runs the risk of handicapping those who need the technology to enhance their ability to do their job, taking the enjoyment of flying a model aircraft out of the hands of recreational users and, deterring innovation and creativity in our young people.
AMA Executive Director
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