FAA to Impose Restrictions on the Hobby

AMA needs your assistance in an urgent matter. The FAA unexpectedly informed us that, contrary to earlier commitments to AMA, the agency is planning to limit all recreational model aircraft operations to 400 feet in controlled airspace and there will be no exceptions. Although a 400 feet limit may work for a large number of our members, we have a number of disciplines that will need to go higher than these proposed heights. Additionally, the FAA is proposing restrictions in uncontrolled airspace to altitudes that could present safety issues as well as limit some model aircraft operations altogether. We were stunned by this proposal and are pushing back, but we need your help.

We urge you to send a letter to your elected representatives in Congress and ask them to contact the FAA concerning this critical issue. Please visit www.modelaircraft.org/higher-flight to contact your representative. 

Congress specifically granted the FAA the flexibility to allow operations over 400 feet if safety would not be affected. The FAA has not provided AMA with any data that proves that our operations are a safety risk. As you know, our model aircraft operations do not pose any safety or security risk to local airports or aircraft. The FAA needs to honor the Congressional directive to work with AMA on these issues.

Since the passage of the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act, AMA has been working with the FAA to make sure our members have the same ability to operate in the airspace as we have had for more than 80 years. Specifically, we have been working with local clubs and the FAA to establish letters of agreement (LOAs) for model aircraft operations at fixed flying sites in controlled airspace, as required by law. These LOAs were intended to set reasonable parameters for model aircraft operations based on the safety needs of each individual flying site.

We have participated in the LOA process with the FAA in good faith and have successfully reached agreements for many clubs. Unfortunately, the FAA has now indicated that it is planning to set a sweeping 400-foot altitude limit for recreational UAS flying in controlled airspace. This limit would make it impossible for numerous clubs to operate and perversely make those operations less safe. The limits in uncontrolled airspace are also of great concern.

Because of the negative impact on so many AMA members and clubs, AMA is going to fight this proposal with every resource at our disposal. You, our members, are our best resource. To have the maximum impact on this proposed policy, please share this message with your friends, family, and fellow club members who love our hobby. Please also monitor your emails and www.modelaircraft.org/gov for new information as we work to fight this restrictive policy. Listen to this podcast to learn more.

As always, we are committed to doing everything possible to protect the model aviation hobby. If you have questions, please contact us at (765) 287-1256 or amagov@modelaircraft.org.


Q: What are the recreational UAS altitude restrictions found in this FAA policy?

A: Recreational UAS users will only be permitted to fly up to 400’ in controlled airspace, this altitude will vary depending on the user’s location.  In uncontrolled airspace, recreational users will be permitted to fly up to 700’ or 1200’, depending on the user’s location.  It is unclear at this time if these uncontrolled airspace altitudes will be permitted only at fixed flying site locations.  Controlled and uncontrolled airspace locations can be found on the FAA’s UAS Facility Map.


Q: This new FAA policy would restrict flights to 400’ and below in controlled airspace, what is controlled airspace?

A: Controlled airspace is typically found within 5 miles of an airport with air traffic control towers. However, keep it mind that there are some airports in controlled airspace that don’t have control towers.


Q: Is there a waiver process to fly above 400’ in controlled airspace?

A: The policy is not finalized, but we are being told that there will not be a waiver process for flights over 400’ in controlled airspace.


Q: Our flying site is located in controlled airspace, should we continue working through the LOA process?

A: Yes. Flying sites located in controlled airspace will still require a letter of agreement (LOA) with local air traffic control (ATC) facilities.


Q: The LOA we received from our local ATC is unsatisfactory. Should we still sign it?

A: No. If you have received an LOA that you are unhappy with, reach out to the AMA Government Affairs team before signing it.


Q: What is uncontrolled airspace?

A: Uncontrolled airspace, or Class G airspace, is typically found in rural areas away from airports.


Q: How high will I be able to fly in uncontrolled airspace?

A: The FAA has stated that they are working on a blanket flying site waiver for uncontrolled airspace, this will allow AMA members to fly up to 700’ or 1200’ depending on the location within Class G airspace.


Q: Flying up to 700’ or 1200’ in Class G airspace, isn’t that good?

A: While these altitudes will be sufficient for a majority of our members, we have a number of disciplines that will need to go higher than these proposed heights.  Thermal soaring, large model aircraft, turbine jets, and international competitions will suffer greatly if there is a hard cap at these heights.  Not only will these disciplines suffer, but the industry supporting these disciplines will be negatively impacted.


Q: New recreational requirements were signed into law in October 2018, why am I just hearing of this?

A: The FAA has been working to implement the new recreational requirements for months.  Until recently, the FAA has been telling AMA that our operations will not be negatively impacted.  However, within the last week, the FAA informed us of a coming policy that will not allow altitude waivers for recreational flyers.


Q: I want to do my part, how can I help address these burdensome altitude restrictions?

A: Use the link provided by AMA to contact your senators and representatives.  Congress gave the FAA the flexibility to allow AMA operations to continue as they have for decades. It’s time your congressional representatives inform the FAA that your voice needs to be heard.


Q: These altitudes will be perfect for the type of flying I do, should I still contact Congress?

A: Absolutely. We should show our support to all aspects of model aviation.  While these altitude restrictions only appear to impact a small majority of the hobby, they will have a negative impact on the hobby as a whole once implemented.