FAA’s Interpretation of the “Special Rule for Model Aircraft”


June 23, 2014 – Today the Federal Aviation Administration filed a Notice of Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft found in Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (Public Law 112-95). The 17 page document emphasizes the agency’s authority to take enforcement action against hazardous operations and spells out the FAA’s interpretation of the congressional mandate to exempt model aircraft from future regulation provided such aircraft are operated within the safety programming of a community-based organization such as the AMA.

AMA is currently reviewing the document and will make further comment upon careful evaluation of the interpretive rule.

Click the link below to read/download a copy of the rule…

Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft

FAA’s Press Release…

FAA Offers Guidance to Model Aircraft Operators

AMA’s Press Release – June 24, 2014

AMA’s Response to FAA’s Interpretive Rule


  1. According to the FAA’s release, they have effectively banned FPV goggles even if we have a spotter. I use goggles at our club and fly well within LOS for my spotter- within about 500 feet of launch point. Now I can’t fly at all. I’d like to know what the AMA’s position about this is.

  2. By the FAA rules, would it be possible for a company to develop and test fly new aircraft or components that are intended for sale to hobbyists? Would someone who works for a magazine be able to do a flight review and post it online? These all seem to fall on the side of commercial and non-hobby use as the FAA is trying to define it.

  3. I’ve been reading the FAA interpretation and their accompanying explanations. If I understand it correctly, if an AMA member flies FPV in accordance with the established AMA FPV rules then they are legal. This would make the pilot on the Instructor Box the FAA recognized “Operator” with unaided visual contact with the aircraft and the pilot on the student box with FPV goggles would not be the FAA recognized “Operator”. Please comment with clarification.

  4. The FAA’s broad over reaching interpretation of the plain language in P.L. 112-95, section 336 effectively creates new rules which is specifically prohibited by the law

  5. It appears pretty clear that the FAA just outlawed all forms of Hobby FPV even though the AMA allows it with a spotter.

    Did the FAA make it illegal for a model aircraft manufacturer to test fly a prototype aircraft?

    Did the FAA just outlaw sponsored pilots?

  6. I believe that until sUAS regulations are cycled within the NPRM process, this is strictly an opinion. Lawyers write opinions every day and as far as I know, there is no legal enforcement on an opinion. Unfortunately, the mainstream media is interpreting this as a regulation. https://www.aviationpros.com/news/11533369/faa-restricts-drone-and-model-aircraft-within-5-miles-of-airports?utm_source=AMT+E-Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=AVVDB140618005

  7. Thanks for letting us know. I look forward to AMA\’s interpretation. Until then let\’s all remain calm and keep our cool. This is not a rule or a rule making, it is an interpretation, subject to comment.

  8. Waiting for a response form our AMA on this issue? We in the modeling community look to you for guidance when it comes to government affairs and could use some letter ideas or other guidance for when the comment period opens tomorrow.

    AMA member for 20 years

  9. By definition a helium balloon would qualify as a model aircraft. I propose that on independence Day every american contact their local tower to notify them they are about to launch a red, white or blue helium balloon to celebrate their independence from tyrannic run away government.

  10. Thank you for your strongly worded response to the FAA’s release regarding model aircraft. There is an enormous amount of discussion on the net among those in the rc community. What can we do to show the numbers standing behind your defense of our hobby?

  11. So if someone wants to hire you to fly a camera 50 feet over their private property to photograph their private property, you can’t. But do it for free and it’s OK. There is no sense in that whatsoever. Aircraft separation and safety have nothing to do with this encroachment on freedom and regulatory barrier to small business. That’s all you really need to know about the stupidity of the relationship between Congress’ statutory definitions of model aircraft and the smug anti-model aircraft stance of the FAA.

    If the FAA is incapable of providing a reasonable framework for commercial model operations, then the Congressional statute needs to be modified to remove the FAA’s specific authority over all models, not just recreational models.

  12. From what I read on other forums, the battle will be over the definition of Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) and “operator”.

    If you fly with a spotter who maintains VLOS there is a opinion that the team of pilot and spotter is the “operator” and has VLOS. Just as the pilot and copilot share responsibilities for the safe operation of an full scale aircraft.

    This is consistent with the AMA 550 on FPV operations. What the AMA should do for clarity is to add the definition of the “Operator” as the team of FPV Pilot and FPV Spotter and that this complies with VLOS and “See & Avoid” requirements.

    That would make the definition within the “programming” of the CBO and limit the FAA’s ability to thwart the intent of Congress.

    1. They spelled that out. No goggles on the Pilot in command even with a spotter! You want to fly FPV with goggles, do it on your computer…….

  13. So much for the FAA working with the AMA. While the AMA is looking to improve guidance on FPV, the FAA completely bans its use.

  14. Our hobby is and always has been under the rule of line of sight. Goggles takes away that part of the hobby and allows for the pilot in command to fly out of line of sight and abuse our hobby and may ruin it for the rest of us. Quit whining and enjoy what we have and stop trying to ruin it for the rest of the flyers out here!!

    1. So your enjoyment out weighs my enjoyment. I bet at one time people said the same about flying gas RC’s or going from control line to RF control. I am so glad we have narrow mind sighted people like you.

  15. Depending on the interpretation, the FPV business could be pretty bad. Other than that, it doesn’t seem so bad, at least immediately. However, some of the language in here makes me fear that the FAA is just trying to get their toe in the door for later, more onerous rulings. One reason I have limited interest in full scale aviation is that I would do it for fun, and the FAA is no fun.

  16. Being both a modeler and an amateur radio operator, I see there is a role for regulation. The FCC regulates amateur radio to the benefit of everyone. Our national organization, the ARRL, represents the amateurs to the FCC and has been quite successful in striking a good balance. Like model aviation, there is a need to insure that operators in one service do not disrupt others. Amateurs must not disrupt communications in other services and likewise other services must not disrupt amateurs. Amateurs must not transmit commercial communications. Not unlike aviation where we must not interfere with manned aircraft and they must not fly so low as to interfere with modelers. And we must not participate in commercial activities as model aviators. Details at the seams have been worked out so an amateur can review new equipment and manufacturers can develop new products. Sometimes the regulation has been very beneficial as when the FCC preempted local governments from unreasonably disallowing amateur radio antennas.

    You might be surprised that an issue between the amateur radio community and the FCC is to get the FCC to devote resources to enforce the regulations against even the most egregious violations.

    I am a bit dismayed that some of my fellow modelers are playing fast and loose with the FPV technology. It isn’t hard to find examples where they quickly tire of flying around the local field and venture out across the city, rivers, homes and so forth. And there too many cases where radio controlled airplanes are interfering with manned aviation.

  17. Line of sight of the operator, refers to maximum distance, a Model aircraft is to fly away. A spotter is a useful safety measure, just in case you loose orientation, and alerting you of any nearby conflicts. The use of FPV gear is, in some situations, a better way of knowing exactly, how far away you are, how high you are, how fast your are moving, and if you are going away or back home, with the help of OSDs (on screen display).

  18. The scariest part of the FAA\’s interpretation is including model aircraft, of any kind, under the regulations contained in 14 CFR 91. If you\’re not familiar with part 91, read the FAA\’s examples in their \”interpretation\” document. The examples they give are very scary and could kill model aviation. eg. fly lower than 500ft. AGL and be subject to prosecution/fine; fly recklessly (model aerobatics?) and be subject to prosecution/fine. I strongly recommend everyone find the phone numbers and email addresses of their congressman and Senators and communicate your displeasure over this interpretation.

    1. I already have contacted one of my US Senators, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. I have communicated with her on several occasions my concerns about model aviation and proposed FAA rules about sharing the airspace. She has answered me every time. I hope to hear from her again soon, as she has supported my arguments and those of the AMA.

  19. Oops forgot a really scary one …fly within 500ft of people or structures and be subject to prosecution/fines. How many model airfields have 500ft. clearance between the runway/flight area and the pits or sheltered area?
    They want to regulate the entire hobby out of existence to make the problem go away.

  20. I’ve been reading as many reports and discussions about these new rules by the FAA and in my opinion the FAA is over-stepping it’s authority just like the TSA and Homeland Security is targeting, detaining, searching, and harrassing private pilots (without search warrants) that are traveling far from any international borders under the guise that they are cracking down on illegal drug activities.

    As has been mentioned above, the FAA wants to outlaw FPV and severely restrict recreational flights of our models. Some of the restrictions are warranted, some are not.

    The problem is the FAA cannot even properly oversee the airlines and general aviation because of budget cuts and a shortage of personnel. How in the world are they going to police what they are proposing?

    As a pilot it’s against the regs to fly below 500 feel above a populated area unless for the purpose of take off or landing. In the past they’ve given us the ability to pretty much fly our models at will below 400 feet AGL and 3 miles or farther from airports I assume because they felt that would provide the proper separation of models and aircraft.

    Now because of a rapidly growing drone industry and some idiots that’s all changing and thanks to the news media (probably at the governments insistence) “DRONES” are now sinister devices!

    Everyone is arguing that people’s privacy is going to be invaded due to drone mounted camera’s and the new FPV technology. Your privacy has already been invaded people!

    You cannot travel anywhere outside your home in this country without a camera taking your picture! Before you jump on me, I do believe we need to all have our privacy in the confines of our own backyards but when you go to a mall or an event you cannot reasonably expect, and you don’t have, any privacy.

    I’ve seen some stories in the news where people are complaining their privacy was invaded by a drone flown over the beach. Those same people don’t say a word about the security camera that’s watching them while they lay on the beach! Or an indecent person with a pair of binoculars in the hotel behind them “checking them out”.

    Another news story was about a woman on the 24th floor of a high rise condo in some city feeling violated when she looked out her window and there was drone with a camera “looking” at her. Turned out it was a drone hired by the building owner to get some publicity shots for advertising the building. Oh, by the way, did I mention she was, by her own admission, standing in the window without any clothes on! Apparently she thought she had privacy standing in a window with the curtains pulled back!

    Another issue I struggle with, it’s perfectly legal (and no one will probably say a word to you) if you mount a camera on a 20′ or 30′ pole and take pictures in a public area but if you put the same camera on a drone and fly it at the same height, in the same location, and not over anyone it’s suddenly illegal or people feel like you are violating their privacy.

    No one seems to mind if an airplane with a very high resolution camera (way higher than a Go Pro) flies over their neighborhood and takes aerial photos of their neighborhood, but put a camera on a drone and lord everyone is up in arms.

    And what about Google taking pictures of your home from directly in front of your home? No one seems to mind that! Fly a drone with a camera down your street and see what reaction you get form your neighbors. BTW, I don’t condone flying down the street or over your neighborhood. Just using real world examples.

    Simple solutions to many of the issues using the technology we already have available:

    1.) Require everyone to go through formalized safety training and the theory of good modeling habits. Require the pilot to carry a certification card when flying or else get fined.

    2.) Make the manufacturers install hardware or software that limits the maximum height of our models to 400′. Whatever technology is used would have to be tamper proof.

    3.) Make the manufactures install hardware or software that prevents the model from traveling more than a predetermined distance from the transmitter. Whatever everyone agrees is the limit of LOS. Once again, it would have to be tamper proof.

    4.) Program the models so they cannot be flown closer than 5 miles to an airport or over known public arenas, stadiums, etc… One drone manufacturer already does this. for airports and certain types of airspace. Must be tamper proof.

    5.) Require the manufacturers to install safety devices that can be manually or automatically triggered so the model can be stopped and safely lowered to the ground in the event of a fly-away. This would have to be a separate fail-safe system that would instantly shut off power to the motors and release a parachute when triggered.

    6.) Have a set of severe penalties in the event someone is caught tampering with any of the above mentioned safety features!

    The only other thing is in my opinion there should be 3 distinct types of drones.

    Military/Law Enforcement/Search & Rescue

    Each should have it’s own set of rules and regulations. Each has a totally separate type of use and would be flown in totally different conditions and environments and therefore cannot possibly be expected to operate under the same regs.

    The bottom line is, no matter what your thoughts or opinions are, we all need to pull together to keep from becoming governed into extinction!

    Thanks for taking the time to read my post!

  21. I am an AMA Member and I believe the safety rules for this sport should not be governed by the FAA except to oversee the AMA safety rules which all of us know are sound and are made with commonsense. The trouble with the FAA is that it will be impossible for that organization to keep up with the sport and it will fail to enforce the rules unless they hire thousands of new agents to watch everyone and that sounds like Communism or Nazism. I would like to see a team effort to this problem as the AMA has done with the FCC and other organizations like local government. The AMA has teamed up with many organizations in order to make fair rules. I am proposing that the FAA use the AMA to help regulate, which otherwise would be an impossible task for the FAA, it should only mandate that anyone who is a member of the AMA, follows the AMA safety rules, has the provided liability insurance when joining the AMA, and is in good standing with a (photo) ID from the AMA is legal to fly in the US. If this is not done then the FAA will have to spend millions on enforcement because no one will do it for them and no one will have liability insurance when the AMA is gone. I know the FAA has many other things to worry about than a sport that has been regulating it’s self for many years. I know there will be some rouge people out in society but there always is. Thank you!

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