Special Rule for Model Aircraft Looks Favorable in the House

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act with the Special Rule for Model Aircraft was passed into law in 2012, but this year the act is up for renewal. Since last year we have been active on the Hill making our case to protect and preserve the Special Rule for Model Aircraft. We explained the strengths of the special rule and proposed some language to further enhance it.

These efforts include face-to-face meetings with legislators on Capitol Hill. We are also using a successful law and lobbying firm in DC to help with the House and Senate revision of the bill.

As a result we now have a House version titled the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act, which preserves our voluntary, community-based approached to managing the model aviation community. The House bill also provided a clear definition of a community-based organization (CBO) and tasks the FAA with developing a process for recognizing CBOS, both long-overdue tasks for the agency. In addition, the bill expands protections to allow model aircraft to be used as a teaching tool for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), as well as aeronautics.

The Senate version, SB 2568, also keeps the Special Rule for Model Aircraft generally intact, but included additional provisions that could detrimentally impact our community. Fortunately many issues we resolved in earlier drafts or through manager’s amendments. One particular onerous provision was a 400-foot altitude limit that initially applied to everyone, but we successfully worked to secure an exemption for AMA members.

While we are thankful for the Senate to address many of our concerns, there is still language in the Senate version that could have a negative impact on our hobby. The Senate proposed unnecessary regulations on modelers who scratch build or kit bash. The bill also puts many flying sites near airports in jeopardy and could require all modelers to take an online FAA safety test.

On April 12 we asked our members to write the Senate to express these concerns. In just a few days nearly 30,100 letters were sent to the Senate asking for support of an amendment that would lessen the negative impact on the model aircraft community. Just like in 2011, we again thank you for your prompt action. The call to action was shared by hobby shops, on forums, through social media, and in club meetings. And just like in 2011, the results may be slow and we may not see the immediate fruits from our April writing campaign for months.

While at times frustrating, progress can be slow when working with Congress. This is by design. For a quick history lesson, when our country was laying the groundwork for a Federal government, there was a strong case to establish a slow-moving legislative body. Our newly formed country was hesitant to create a swift moving government that could rush through legislation. As a result, there are processes in Congress to keep the law writing process at a slower pace to allow for review, amendments, and citizen engagement.

We will continue to work with Congress as the more favorable House version to go to a floor vote. Once the House and Senate versions are passed, the bills go to a Conference Committee. In the Conference Committee, the bill will undergo a new round of revisions and changes. Eventually the bill goes to another vote in the House and Senate and then gets signed into law by the President. This process could transpose over the next couple months. Considering this is a heated Presidential election year, it is also likely the process may stall until 2017.

Below is a graphic that demonstrates our progress at this moment. We have a long road ahead and at any of these stages we may ask you to make your voice heard again. Please continue to monitor www.modelaircraft.org/gov and your email.

As always, thank you for your support of the AMA during this long process and your efforts to protect our community.


  1. So, what has changed from 2 weeks ago? Knowledge testing and making building model aircraft in the basement a Federal crime are still in the Senate bill. Do these bills identify members of the Academy Of Model Aeronautics by name, not just a reference to a CBO?

    1. Hi Ray. The Senate bill has passed and still includes the concerns you addressed. We are now shepherding the House version and are working to get it passed. The House version does task the FAA to officially recognize CBOs by name. Once the two versions are passed, they then go to another committee for a new round of revisions.

      1. I guess I’ll come out and ask it:

        Is it a goal of the AMA to become a government-sanctioned regulatory/licensing agency?

        Many of the ‘improvements’ to the proposed legislation the AMA has been pushing forward explicitly exclude anyone that does not pay dues and play strictly by the AMA rules. I’ve personally been weary of the organization after a few encounters with immature and ignorant club officials ran people out for their choice of aircraft. So far, I just moved on to fly somewhere else. I would hate to see these caustic members of the organization have any real power.

        How easy will it be for other community-based organizations to get on the FAA’s ‘blessed list’? Will the AMA work on making it easy? Or will they guard their position as sole CBO to keep the ‘competition’ from ever having a chance? Will the AMA continue to fight for the hobby once the government grants a guaranteed revenue stream and forces everyone to pay the dues?

        The AMA should be a community, not a gatekeeper and toll collector.

        1. Hi Adam,

          We have demonstrated to many in the FAA and Congress that our members have a history of safe and responsible flying and should not be swept up in overbearing regulations. As a result, the community-based organization exemption was drafted and placed into law to protect model pilots who are committed to safety. Congress will not write a blanket exemption to all recreational modelers, only those who commit to a safety program of a national community-based organization. Our goal is not be a government agency, the CBO model was the best resolution to protect the hobby and those who fly responsibility.

          In the House AIRR Act, we helped draft language to task the FAA with developing a process for recognizing qualifying CBOs.

          1. Chad,

            One of the guys in another club posted a link to an article by Michael Huerta, titled “Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft.” Most of the article is pretty straightforward. However, there is one sentence that I’m not clear on. It is stated: “the aircraft is operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines AND WITHIN THE PROGRAMMING OF A NATIONWIDE COMMUNITY-BASED ORGANIZATION.” What is meant by “within the PROGRAMMING of a nationwide community-based organization”?

            1. The AMA meets the definition of a Community-Based Organization which we tasked the FAA to officially recognize in the House version of the FAA Reauth Bill. AMA has a detailed safety code for all fliers and safety guidelines and programs for the various disciplines of model flying.

      2. Chad,

        Thanks for the reply. The purpose of these bills is for continued funding of the FAA. Right now, the FAA is operating on temporary funding. The AMA needs to continue to push hard for our members. My big concern is there are many things in these bills. Both the house and the senate are under pressure to get this done. We can only hope they do not see the model aircraft items as just a bump in the road and ignore AMA’s positions. It is absolutely nuts to believe, how we all started, making balsa dust in the basement could become a Federal crime.

  2. I am still quite concerned as to the provisions about design and construction of scratch-built and modeler-designed aircraft, as this is the foundation of aeromodelling as we know it. While many of us are still practicing this well-established art as we know it, I shudder to think of the impact any restrictive legislation will have on our ability to innovate without beaurocratic intervention; the FAA does not seem to remember that new aircraft begins with models. We seem to have made some significant progress towards keeping our right to use the NAS as pertains to altitude limits, model airfields near airports, et. al, but no one seems to want to discuss the implications of the FAA burdening us builders with unreasonable regulations concerning materials and practices, and I for one feel this is still the heart and soul of the hobby in spite of all the RTF/ARF airframes available. Does no one else build anymore? I look forward to comments.

    1. I do and many others, too. I have a supply of kits, plans and balsa wood in my basement. If this all comes to pass, there is enough evidence here to put me away for a very long time.

      1. Maybe that’s exactly the goal. If everyday things are federal crimes, then nobody is safe from government overreach! Great way to keep everyone in line, or imprison whoever you want, whenever you want!

        Small government is the best government. Time to clip the wings of the FAA and all of the other alphabet agencies that are run by appointed ‘officials’, and whose rulemaking is eroding our freedoms.

      2. Ray, many of us are in the same boat, as it were; I have upwards of twenty aircraft in the works now, and many more planned. Being semi-retired, now it is time for me to take back the sandbox and Tonka-trucks; doggone it, I didn’t get to play with them as a kid, and I’m darned-well going to do it now. Meantime I fear for my future over this impending legislation, as I’m studying for my A&P so that I can continue to work in the aviation industry. If the onerous portions of the bill are not corrected, it puts me at risk of becoming a criminal for simply building a model airplane, and THAT is absolutely unbelievable in my eyes. I hope this gets the attention of the AMA for sure, because I’ll bet that I’m not alone.

  3. In a way I hope the process does get stalled so there is a chance the new administration can take a fresh look at the development of such restrictive regulations on the hobby and on the industry. Regulations like these can crush pleasure, education and business.

  4. Again, I want to thank all of you in AMA who are working to strengthen and protect our right to fly our aircraft in a safe and lawful manner. I hope that your efforts and our lobbying group will be able to iron out the few kinks that still remain in these bills and will result in a practical and realistic set of safety rules that will grow the R/C sport and result in greater safety for all.

  5. Honestly I get very nervous when you say “looks favorable” on anything. Seems like every time this phase is used the next correspondence we get is “we are disappointed about”. I’m starting to see a pattern here.


  6. When are people going to learn that telling the FAA what and what they can not do is a bad bad bad idea. Even though amendment #336 was the “Law of the Land” the FAA chose to compleatly ignore it even worse the FAA chose to interpret #336 compleatly in the opposite to what congress had intended the Amendment to accomplish. STOP trying to tell the FAA their Job. They know that 99.999% of “Traditional” Model Aviation and any thing flown at and with the CBO of a designated flying site are not the PROBLEM. JMHO Take it for what it’s worth.

  7. Any progress on getting official confirmation from the FAA that the 400-foot guideline they have posted on their registration website does not apply to CBO modelers and is in fact not an actual regulation but simply nothing more than a “best practices” recommendation as outlined in AC 91-57A?

    AMA said back in January that this statement was expected within 2 weeks. So, now, 3 months later, and still nothing from the FAA on that front.

    1. The document is still with the FAA legal team. We will continue our requests for this statement from our January meeting.

  8. Many thanks for AMA’s tireless support and keeping its members informed on this key legislation!

  9. As I’ve noted on several occasions, the problem causing all the new restrictions to be legislated is the wreckless use of drones (multi rotor copters). Any new regulations necessary should be written specifically to address the problem and not written so broad as to punish all model aircraft not using hovering technology, guidance systems, etc. The truth is that the vast majority of RC model aircraft remains harmless to general public.

    Focus on the problem!!

    1. I’d say much the same thing to you. Focus on the problem!

      The problem is not the kind of aircraft being flown, but the kind of people flying them. There are many hobbyists that fly planes, helicopters, and multirotors, and they are not a problem. There are hobbyists that only fly multirotors and spend countless hours building them, they are not the problem.

      The problem is not hobbyists of any sort. The problem is people that see RC not as a hobby in an of itself, but as a means to an end. I’m talking about photographers, ‘vloggers’ and wannabe videographers. These people have no respect for the hobby because, frankly, they just don’t care. It’s no coincidence that 100% of high-profile incidents involve ready-to-fly models.

      Let’s not turn against our own. We should be smart enough to see through the media sensationalism.

  10. Thank you for another AMA Gov update. I am delighted to hear how many members wrote to their elected representatives. At the same time, I am disappointed that our RC flying hobby continues to face a significant threat of unnecessary and overreaching regulation.

  11. Thank you AMA , Iam gratful for your representation and support of our great hobby.

  12. While the Congress is designed to move with deliberation and caution, there is apparently no such constraint on the FAA. They steamrollered the introduction of Registration on AMA members despite all the comments and calls for them to respect the letter and intent of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft. Yet at the other end of the scale, and also to FAA’s advantage over those it is supposed to serve, we still wait for analysis of many thousands of public comments on the Interpretation of the Special Rule, the Interim Final Rule on sUAS regulations and the working group on sUAS Registration (in which the AMA’s case for exemption was callously dismissed). Frankly, we have been ignored so many times it is hard for me to feel as optimistic, dispassionate and objective as the tone in this latest blog post.

  13. Keep up the good work. There is no doubt that safety is an issue that AMA members hold dear and want to maintain in our hobby. Thre may be a need to require modelers flying specific types of aircraft and UAV’s to be members of the AMA and join an AMA sanctioned club to fly. Flying at a AMA registered site operated by a AMA affiliated club may ultimately by forced upon the hobby. I do not see a problem with that approach. The FAA allows the CAP to certify and license adults and youth to operate actual aircraft under the umbrella of the CAP criteria. The untrained model aircraft pilots pose the greatest risks to the hobby. They need more supervision. Operating without control and boundaries is dangerous. Rogues that do endanger the hobby. Shut them down and enforce thoes requirements.

  14. Just like firearms, I think that all receivers and their serial numbers be recorded by the seller. The receiver should be equipped with GPS capability reporting altitude. Any model aircraft that exceeds 700 feet in altitude would be able to be tracked by the government recording their violation. Registering all these model builders is kind of an insane idea. Please keep up your good work.

    1. Why should I pay for GPS-enabled radio equipment so that Big Brother can check up on where, how often, and when I fly?

  15. This is one of the best formatted reports yet. Very informative — great work.

  16. You know it seems sad that all the problems we have at this time are from Quadcopters. and now the AMA in their great wisdom has Quad week

  17. Chad,
    Admittedly, I am not privy to any of the behind-the-scene/backroom deals that take place with the AMA but, why would the AMA be in bed with or be involved with a coalition that is responsible for or has goals that are contradictory to the views and concerns of the individuals that it represents? Why is the AMA partners with the Small UAS Coalition (SUASC) in/on the http://www.knowbeforeyoufly.org website when the SUASC admittedly announced that “The Coalition worked closely with key lawmakers (that means lobbied with money) to ensure the bill directs the FAA to develop a risk-based, yet flexible regulatory framework that will enable the safe, widespread integration of UAS into the national airspace.”?
    The new Bill also instructs the FAA to get with NASA within 90 days to develop the Unmanned Traffic Management system (UTM) and to prepare for “the expected near term use of unmanned delivery systems without an automated UTM in place.” This means FAAmazon, Gnoogle, Wally, Best and all the rest.

    This is what is behind our current and coming restrictions and and has been lobbied for by big biz since before the 2007 Re-Auth Bill where Congress told the FAA to start the integration of UAS into the NAS.
    Can you explain why the AMA is partnered up with this bunch?


    1. Congress and the FAA will continue to draft regulations on how sUAS should be integrated into the airspace. We will continue our advocacy work independently, but also believe there is strength in numbers through alliances such as SUASC.

      1. Please be careful with how you approach that. A good argument could be made that not CLEARLY defining the difference between a model and a drone played a large part in where we are now.

        I do want to say thank you for the work you’ve done so far. I know it’s a lot of work, and probably receives little thanks.

    2. The short-and-sweet answer is for the FAA to issue NOTAM’s regarding flying fields as concerns regular flights above 400′, for starters. Generally the LOS areas around the fields are a few thousand feet at best; Notices to pilots should be enough in today’s GPS-guided navigation systems. In any case, commercial aviation is rarely at low enough altitudes to pose a collision threat, and GA pilots much the same. One can infer, then, that the people really behind this whole thing are the (prospective) commercial drone operators, who appear to want to take over the entire below-1000′ airspace for their business interests. This is UNTENABLE! Being a good Yankee, (Samuel Adams should be canonized a saint), your rights end at the tip of my nose. Let us modelers have our flight areas, notify the flying public for avoidance purposes, and let’s be done with it, please.

  18. 4 May 2016, the FAA released a Memorandum of interpretation on the subject of “Educational Use of Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS)”. This letter describes the operation of UAS in educational institutions. In short, this letter allows these operation within the accordance of section 336 of the FAA Modernization Act of 2012. This relieves the requirement of obtaining an exemption from sect 333 of the same public law.

    If the AMA would work with the FAA to develop a letter defining hobby operations outside of educational institutions, this letter could address all the concerns AMA members have about the current and pending public laws. Including things like the 400 foot rule, certification and knowledge testing for hobby only operations (not a student).

  19. Let’s just go fly already. Enough of this nonsense. Seems more time and energy is being spent on a no-brainier when we should all just be enjoying our hobby and life. If the folks who stirred-up the pot, for no good reasons or rhymes in the first place, don’t have a life or any thing better to do; doesn’t mean the rest of us have to as well.

  20. Chad, it seems like the AMA is not availing itself of the resource it has in its members. What can the AMA membership be doing at this point to help pass a favorable bill in the house?

    1. Right now we are at a stand-still while we wait for the bill to go to a vote. There are concerns about privatization of ATC in the House bill, but we expect it will get resolved before going to vote and it should ultimately pass. Members should write the House and encourage them to pass the bill, but will probably not “officially” mobilize our members until the bill goes to conference committee. We don’t want to go back to the well too many times with our members and are reserving those calls to action when we believe it will be most influential.

      1. Chad, good call on that play. Please refer to my last post this column…..

  21. As it stands right now according to the FAA web site, both tethered and untethered come under the law which also includes control line. It also includes free flight as they have on board control such as dethermalizers which are activated after the model leaves the ground. They have left nothing out as far as I can see except those that are under the weight limit. I sure hope they make some changes as modeling will be dead as we know it in a very short time. 99% of control line and free flight guys build their own planes. That would probably come to a stop if the rules go through like the senate wants, as all planes would have to be built by an FAA certified model builder.

    1. James,

      From what I’ve gathered from the discussions here is that control line and free flight models were exempt from the current rule-making unless:

      1) A control line model has operational features that are controlled by radio from the pilot. I’m not sure why the FAA would be concerned about this since the model can’t get any higher than the flying wires attached to it, regardless of how many radio-controlled features it contains.

      2) A free flight model has some device installed on it that is controlled by a radio signal from the ground. I’m not sure why a free flight model would be exempt under any conditions because it seems like a high performance model could easily exceed 400′ in altitude and put it up into the region inhabited by full-scale aircraft and this is what the FAA is worried about.

  22. Would that mean no more scratch builds, even foamies? An FAA certified model builder certainly sounds like a lofty position!

    1. THIS is what concerns me MOST, as I am, by career choice, going to inherit that very position. While I certainly enjoy building MINIATURE aircraft, that’s not necessarily the direction I wish to go (unless folks are willing to pay for the services); I’m instead headed towards the historical preservation sector. While building museum pieces is a part of that, it is not my primary goal. The recent loss of a P-47 into the Hudson river should illustrate my point, as I highly suspect an equipment failure to be the cause of the crash. One would hope that like-minded mechanics will not be distracted from the real work of maintaining these magnificent examples of aviation history (for all of us to enjoy) by having to perform 100-hr and annual inspections on model airplanes….while that could actually be quite a lucrative business, (and I’m not disinterested), I don’t think that’s a direction that we as modelers need to go. EVERYONE needs to speak up LOUDLY as to the folly of going down this path.

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