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    US Law on Flying Model Aircraft - FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012

    A very similar post is somewhat buried in another thread. Shrimpfarmer's posted link to Pull_Up's video on UK Law suggested it might be better placed in a thread of its own. It is interesting to see that there are many similarities between the UK's CAA regulations and the boundaries the US Law establishes for the FAA.

    In all the discussion and debate regards regulations (and the lack thereof) of model aircraft in the US, frequent reference is made to the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, section 336 in particular. It seems to be the only applicable US federal law presently in place. However, it's doubtful that many actually have the read the FULL text of that section. That's unfortunate on two counts 1) folks are apparently satisfied to take the word of others as to what it says, 2) as laws go, it's fairly short and straightforward, i.e., devoid of legalese ... of course the courts ultimately decide what the words in laws mean, and they have been known to come up with some fairly "creative" interpretations. So here's the text of section 336. This is not legal advice - it's just a post of the existing law ... and some personal observations thereafter.

    FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012
    PUBLIC LAW 112–95
    (Accesible at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-11...-112publ95.pdf ... only 145 pages!)

    SEC. 336. SPECIAL RULE FOR MODEL AIRCRAFT.

    (a) IN GENERAL.— Notwithstanding any other provision of law relating to the incorporation of unmanned aircraft systems into Federal Aviation Administration plans and policies, including this subtitle, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft, if —

    (1) the aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use;

    (2) the aircraft is operated in accordance with a community based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization;

    (3) the aircraft is limited to not more than 55 pounds unless otherwise certified through a design, construction, inspection, flight test, and operational safety program administered by a community-based organization;

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

    (5) when flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport) with prior notice of the operation (model aircraft operators flying from a permanent location within 5 miles or an airport should establish a mutually-agreed upon operating procedure with the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport)).

    (b) STATUTORY CONSTRUCTION.— Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the authority of the Administrator to pursue enforcement action against persons operating model aircraft who endanger the safety of the national airspace system.

    (c) MODEL AIRCRAFT DEFINED.— In this section, the term "model aircraft" means an unmanned aircraft that is —

    (1) capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere;

    (2) flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and

    (3) flown for hobby or recreational purposes.


    Some observations:

    It should be recognized that this law does not impose any restrictions on model aircraft operators. What it does is define the boundaries of what the FAA may and may not regulate relative to model aircraft. As of this writing the FAA has not gone through their required rule making process to establish any of the regulations which they are authorized to make. However, by defining what the FAA can regulate, it does give operators some insight into the parameters that will keep them out of the FAA's jurisdiction.

    Folks are particularly fond of quoting section (a) and neglecting to mention parts 1 through 5 under (a), namely the requirements that must be met for section (a) to be in effect. They're happy with part (a) because it says the FAA "may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft". They're not so enthralled with 1 through 5 thereunder because it puts limits on section (a).

    Section (b) is troubling because it's a wide open catchall ... it allows the FAA to pursue enforcement against model aircraft operators that "endanger the safety of the national airspace system", and what that might consist of is not specifically defined ... so that will most assuredly only be decided in a court after the fact. Some find section (c) bothersome because it defines model aircraft as those flown "within visual Line Of Sight" (LOS) of the operator. That would seem to mean that First Person View (FPV) craft flown Beyond Visual Range (BVR) do not qualify as "model aircraft", and are therefore not protected from FAA regulation.

    To ensure insulation from FAA regulation, part (a)(2) requires that the aircraft be "operated in accordance with a community based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization". As of this date the only such organization known to exist is the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), and some folks have deduced that this means one has to join the AMA. The law simply says one has to fly within their guidelines/programming, it doesn't say you have to be a member. The AMA's safety guidelines are public information, and readily available (see http://www.modelaircraft.org/files/105.PDF).

    Section 332 of the referenced law is where one can find the law's charge to the FAA to come up with "rules" for incorporating commercial unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system (which they've not yet done). So in view of that, and the above, it appears there's a potential legal gap here. It's clear that the FAA must come up with regulations for commercial UAS flying, and that they may not regulate recreational flying which meets the listed criteria. The gap is between these two, i.e., recreational flying that does not comply with the listed criteria - is it subject to FAA regulation, or not? Reading between the lines, I suspect it may be, but ultimately the courts will likely have to decide.

    It's probably a good bet that regards recreational, model aircraft, the AMA guidelines are a pretty fair indicator of what will be expected for one to remain in the "unregulated" space.
    Last edited by Visioneer; 04-24-14 at 11:45 AM.

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