FAA Reauthorization – What Does It Mean?

As we move closer to a new FAA Reauthorization bill, many hobbyists are left wondering what this means for model aircraft operations. Congress authorizes the FAA to create rules, fund and develop initiatives, and implement specific programs. This authorization expires every one to five years and requires Congress to reauthorize the agency with additional funding and mandates.

The last time Congress reauthorized the FAA was in 2018, and that bill expires later this year. FAA Reauthorization is our opportunity to change the rules we follow as recreational model aircraft operators. The AMA Government team started working on 2023 FAA Reauthorization as soon as the 2018 bill was finalized, in order to lessen restrictions that it placed on our community. We’ve met with hundreds of offices in both the House and the Senate to share information about our community, what impact current restrictions have on our operations, and solutions to issues that the 2018 bill created.

The first indication of what will be included in the bill came with the release of the House and Senate draft bills in mid-June. Each bill reflected some of the changes we’ve been working toward, including a process to fly above 400 feet in uncontrolled airspace (currently restricted to 400 feet unless flying at a waivered AMA-sanctioned event), clarifying large model aircraft operations (LMA) in uncontrolled airspace, expanding the educational provision to include elementary and secondary schools (currently not included), funding of the Know Before You Fly (KBYF) campaign (currently funded through 2023), among others. Although we are happy that we have received many of these changes, we don’t feel they go far enough in reducing current restrictions and have amendments to get additional altitude allowance for everyone flying in uncontrolled airspace and a more flexible process for FAA-Recognized Identification Areas (FRIAs).

For those who are interested in digging a little deeper, current legislation, the House and Senate bills, and AMA’s amendments are included below:

Current legislation that became law in 2018 (U.S.C. 44809 Section 349 and 350):

(1) Aircraft is flown strictly for recreational purposes.

(2) Aircraft is operated in accordance with or within the programming of a community-based organization’s set of safety guidelines.

(3) The aircraft is flown within the visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft or a visual observer co-located and in direct communication with the operator.

(4) The aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with, and gives way to, any manned aircraft.

(5) In controlled airspace, the operator obtains prior authorization from the Administrator or designee before operating and complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions.

(6) In uncontrolled airspace, the aircraft is flown from the surface to not more than 400 feet above ground level.

(7) The operator has passed an aeronautical knowledge and safety test.

(8) The aircraft is registered with the FAA and marked accordingly.

Operations at Fixed Sites

(1) Persons operating unmanned aircraft under subsection (a) from a fixed site within controlled airspace or a community-based organization conducting a sanctioned event within such airspace, shall make the location of the fixed site known to the Administrator and shall establish a mutually agreed upon operating procedure with the air traffic control facility.

Unmanned Aircraft Weighing Over 55 Pounds

(2) A person may operate an unmanned aircraft weighing more than 55 pounds, including the weight of anything attached to or carried by the aircraft, under subsection (a) if—

(A) the unmanned aircraft complies with standards and limitations developed by a community-based organization and approved by the Administrator; and

(B) the aircraft is operated from a fixed site as described in paragraph (1).

Community-based organization

In this section, the term “community-based organization” means a membership-based association entity that—

(1) is described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986;

(2) is exempt from tax under section 501(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986;

(3) the mission of which is demonstrably the furtherance of model aviation;

(4) provides a comprehensive set of safety guidelines for all aspects of model aviation;

(5) provides programming and support for any local charter organizations, affiliates, or clubs; and

(6) provides assistance and support in the development and operation of locally designated model aircraft flying sites.

Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems for Educational Purposes

(a) the purposes of section 44809 of title 49, United States Code, as added by this Act, a ‘‘recreational purpose’’ as distinguished in subsection (a)(1) of such section shall include an unmanned aircraft system

(1) operated by an institution of higher education for educational or research purposes;

(2) flown as part of an established Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program for education or research purposes; or

(3) flown as part of an educational program that is chartered by a recognized community-based organization (as defined in subsection [h] of such section)

Know Before You Fly Campaign

There are authorized to be appropriated to the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration $1,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2019 through 2023, out of funds made available under Section 106(k), for the Know Before You Fly educational campaign or similar public informational efforts intended to broaden unmanned aircraft systems safety awareness.

What’s Next?

Now that the House and Senate each have a bill, we have the opportunity to work with offices in order to get amendments to the bills included before each bill moves to a vote. After both of these bills pass their respective chambers, then committees from both the House and the Senate will work together to merge the two bills into one. That bill will then go to the full chamber in the House and Senate and they will vote again. When passed by the full chamber, the bill goes to the President to be signed into law. It’s important to note that the sections regarding recreational model aircraft operations are merely small sections of much larger bills. The highlights of each bill that affect our community are outlined below.

Senate Bill for 2023 FAA Reauthorization

  • Includes a process to fly over 400 feet in Class G airspace.
  • Fixes the large model aircraft (LMA) issue in Class G airspace. Clarifies LMA flights are permitted in Class G and includes a process for over 400 feet.
  • Changes the term “sanctioned events” to “CBO-sponsored operations.”
  • Uses the word “drone” in place of UAS (definition remains the same from 2018).
  • Requires that a categorical exclusion to NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) be developed for low-impact UAS operations.
  • Requires the FAA to develop UTM (Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management) procedures for BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) ops.
  • Updates educational provision to allow elementary and secondary schools to fly under rec rules.
  • Provides $1 million a year for KBYF from 2024-2028.

House Bill for 2023 FAA Reauthorization

  • Includes a process to fly above 400 feet in Class G airspace. This process does not mention fixed sites, so it’s possible that operations over 400 feet will be permitted outside of sites.
  • Fixes the large model aircraft issue in Class G airspace. Now allows for LMA flights in Class G and includes a process for over 400 feet.
  • Updates educational provision to allow elementary and secondary schools to fly under recreational rules.
  • Changes the term “sanctioned events” to “CBO-sponsored operations.”
  • Requires the FAA to work with CBOs to develop a process to approve altitude requests above the UAS Facility Map.
  • Requires the FAA to prioritize and adjudicate FRIA requests at fixed sites.
  • Creates the Airspace Innovation Office to manage the continued modernization of the NAS.
  • Requires the FAA to determine if a network base solution can satisfy Remote ID rule.
  • Mandates rulemaking for BVLOS commercial operations.
  • Include a provision for UTM development and testing.
  • Provides $1 million a year for KBYF from 2024-2028.

AMA Amendments (House and Senate)

  • Allows for operations up to controlled airspace (either 700 feet or 1,200 feet depending on location) in Class G airspace.
  • Includes a process to fly above 700 feet and 1,200 feet in Class G airspace.
  • Allows CBOs to self-declare FRIAs.
  • Requires CBOs to administer The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST).

To remain current with the most recent government-related news, regularly visit the AMA Government Affairs blog. If you have any further questions or concerns, contact the Government Affairs department at (765) 287-1256 or amagov@modelaircraft.org.