What we really need to ensure the safety of our skies
© Getty Images

A few weeks ago, the U.S. District Court ruled that the FAA’s registration requirement for recreational unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) runs afoul of Section 336 of the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act. This decision affirms the strength of Section 336, more commonly known as the Special Rule for Model Aircraft. As Congress begins to consider FAA reauthorization, it’s important that they continue to recognize and prioritize the role of community-based organizations, such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), in educating and managing hobbyists. This role is what makes the Special Rule effective.

To fully understand how the Special Rule works, you must look at all the language Congress included in the 2012 bill. Congress prohibited the FAA from promulgating “any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft” – but only if specific requirements were met. Importantly, this includes operating “in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization.”

By no means did Congress intend to give hobbyists a free pass; rather Congress’ intent with the Special Rule was to leave risk mitigation and the development of appropriate safety guidelines to those who are directly involved in the activity and have the longest track record of safely managing the hobbyist community. A nationwide community-based organization (CBO) like AMA ensures that those who operate under the Special Rule fly responsibly. AMA educates hobbyists and helps keep our skies safe.

AMA was founded in 1936, two decades before the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The organization serves as the nation’s collective voice for approximately 200,000 hobbyists in 2,400 clubs across the United States and in Puerto Rico. Our members follow rigorous safety guidelines that are based on AMA’s many decades of experience overseeing the model aircraft community. The AMA National Model Aircraft Safety Code has been recognized by Congress as well as state legislatures as a safe and effective means of managing model aircraft enthusiasts. Our members know where, when, and how to fly safely.

The Special Rule for Model Aircraft was intended to allow hobbyists to fly within CBO safety programing, essentially providing an alternative that is equitable – if not more rigid – than what the FAA offers to those who prefer not to operate within a CBO. Unfortunately, some people simply use the Special Rule as a get out of jail free card and do not fully engage or operate in accordance with a CBO program. This is part of the reason why we acknowledge that some tweaks may be necessary for the Special Rule. Nevertheless, we strongly believe that the option for hobbyists to operate in a CBO structure should remain.

In fact, we believe the CBO model – when properly executed – works better than a federally mandated program to manage the recreational community. The registration issue is just one example. While the FAA only began requiring registration in 2016, for many years AMA members have already been required to register with our organization and include an identifying number on all their aircraft. Membership with the AMA also includes more robust education requirements than what the FAA included with their registration rule. AMA was ahead of the curve on registration and any additional requirement for AMA members to register with the FAA is clearly duplicative and unnecessary.

We firmly believe that education, not regulation, is what truly equips individuals to fly safely and responsibly. AMA has successfully managed the hobbyist community of model aircraft enthusiasts by providing robust safety guidelines and education program for our members. We’ve proven the CBO model programs work, and we should be allowed to continue operating in this way.

Richard Hanson is President of the Academy of Model Aeronautics.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.