Drone hobbyists dispute federal aircraft definition

Drone hobbyists dispute federal aircraft definition
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The group that represents people who fly drones for fun is challenging the Federal Aviation Administration’s inclusion of such devices in its legal definition of an aircraft. 

The FAA has decided that model aircraft should be subject to same rules as other small planes in its interpretation of a rule that was included in legislation passed by Congress in 2012. 

The interpretation of the aircraft definition is included in the proposed rules for small drones that were released by the agency last month, to the dismay of the Muncie, Ind.-based Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA). 

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The model aviation group contends Congress made clear that hobby aircraft should not be subject to the FAA’s drones rules in the 2012 legislation, which directed the agency to create the drone regulations. 

“In its proposed rule, the agency concluded that regulations relating to the commercial use of [small drones] should not apply to the longstanding, educational hobby of flying model aircraft,” the group said in a statement. 

“These are two very different activities, and Congress appropriately made clear in 2012 that model aircraft operated within the safety programming of a nationwide community-based organization should be exempt from federal regulation,” the model aviation group continued. "This is good news for AMA members, who have operated under a strict National Safety Code for nearly 80 years.” 

The FAA’s proposed rules define small drones as devices that weigh less than 55 pounds and require them to be operated at heights that are less than 500 feet and speeds that are less than 100 miles per hour.

The regulations also call for drone flights to be limited to daytime hours and conducted only by U.S. residents who are older than 17. Drone operators are prohibited under the FAA proposal from conducting flights that take the devices out of their line of vision, which is a big blow to companies like Amazon, that have touted the possibility of using the technology to conduct deliveries, although the company has since received permission to test some drone flights for deliveries. 

The rules make drone operators responsible for avoiding collisions with manned aircraft that are in the same airspace as the devices, and prohibit drone flights that “fly over people, except those directly involved with the flight.”

The AMA says it is fine with the rest of the drone rules, but the group is concerned the FAA’s interpretation of the aircraft definition “effectively makes model airplanes subject to all regulations applicable to full-scale aircraft.

“Overall, the AMA views the proposed [small drone] regulations as a positive step,” the group wrote in a letter to its members. “With one exception that may impact model aircraft manufacturers, it essentially takes the language in the 2012 Special Rule for Model Aircraft (the AMA amendment) and places it in the federal aviation regulations.”  

The exception is a big deal, however, because the group said the FAA’s proposal “makes model aircraft subject to airspace requirements that have never been applicable in the past and with which it is impossible or impractical to comply” and “effectively changes the criteria for operating within five miles of an airport from the requirement of providing prior 'notification' to a requirement of obtaining prior permission.” 

The FAA has said it is accepting comments on the proposed drones for 60 days.