A Win for Aviation

AMA recently achieved additional educational aeromodelling protections written into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that has passed through Congress. AMA Government Affairs Director Tyler Dobbs sat down with AMA Podcast host Matt Ruddick to discuss these protections and what they mean for the hobby.

Listen to the full episode below or continue reading this article to learn more. 

Earlier this month, the U.S. Congress moved to pass the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021. It is currently awaiting final approval from the U’S. President. 

What is the National Defense Authorization Act? 

The NDAA is essentially a series of federal laws that specify funding for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). It determines the agencies responsible for defense, establishes funding levels, and sets the policies for spending. 

Why are educational UAS mentioned in a Department of Defense bill? 

In short, the NDAA became a vehicle that allowed us to get some language in a bill. This isn’t the first time a DOD bill has been used to help protect the hobby. For example, in 2017 the DOD bill was used to reinstate FAA registration for recreational model aircraft. This move was not unprecedented, just uncommon. 

How did we get here?  

In 2012, Congress passed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which included the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, under FAA Section 336. The act looked to community-based organizations, such as the AMA, to provide guidance and safety programming for members. This provided a path for recreational modelers to operate without the threat of new rules and restrictions from the FAA.  

In 2014, the FAA released a memorandum allowing for educational usage of model aircraft. This allowed teachers and students learning about model aircraft and drones to operate under recreational rules. 

In 2018, Section 350 of the FAA Reauthorization Act nullified the educational memorandum and stated that only institutions of higher education (universities) could operate using recreational rules without requiring an FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate. Following discussion with the FAA, AMA feared that they were going to interpret Section 350 to only allow recreational use at the university level. 

AMA received bipartisan congressional support for educational UAS expansion; however, the U.S. Congress and the FAA wanted to ensure that educational UAS operations were done safely and under a proven program. They felt existing programs such as JROTC and AMA were the best option to provide proper oversight.  

What does it mean for the hobby? 

This goes beyond just the hobby and is a win for aviation in general, allowing model aviation to continue being the stepping-stone to full-scale aviation. This provision removes the hurdles that were in place for educators and makes it easier for students to learn and teachers to instruct. It is a big step in the right direction for the future of our hobby. 

We will continue to update everyone on any recent developments as they come. Be sure to follow us online through our Blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

Until then, we will continue to fight to protect the hobby we all love! 


  1. As a long time model aircraft pilot, the last several years seemed to have had the entire model RC threaten with possible rules that would make the regular RC aircraft pilot a thing of the past. But this finally seems to see us turning a serious corner, one that we can now use as a step up to looking forward and outward.

    1. I do see this as turning a significant corner. If signed into law, the UAS amendment to the NDAA bill will allow JROTC programs to operate for educational purposes and other primary and secondary educational programs to operate under a recognized community-based organization like the Academy of Model Aeronautics. This significantly reduces the regulatory burden on JROTC and educational groups, gives them access to a community of experienced aviators and, ultimately, will allow more people to safely learn. The amendment is great news for educators and young people who will go on to serve in high-demand STEM-related fields, as model aviation has proven to be an effective tool for instructing and training new generations of aviators, engineers, and more.

  2. While a big win for Education sites, as I read the Final Rule, I am concerned that FAA excluded local government sites. It appears in the discussion they are concerned that local governments would be trying to use the recreational exemption for government flying activities, and therefore filing exemptions for any and all government properties.

    The issue I have is many fields are on municipal property, owned by local government. If government facilities are excluded, does this mean the “city field” cannot be a no-ID zone for recreational use? Our club uses a city facility, but we have no “ownership”, and little other than peer pressure to maintain the rules. The field does not require AMA membership (we have tried, always been shot down).

    I race out of town, similarly at fields that are city-owned with a club presence, with varying degrees of authority. The way I read the Final Rule, such fields are in jeopardy (or would have to require Remote ID)

    Please tell me I am wrong!


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