FAA revises 1981 model aircraft advisory circular

By Patrick C. Miller | September 03, 2015

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Wednesday released a revised version of its advisory circular on model aircraft operating standards to include guidance to those operating unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) as a hobby or for recreation.

AC No. 91-57A replaces AC No. 91-57, a document that Florida UAS attorney Jonathan Rupprecht said hadn’t been updated for more than 34 years. He provided a handy comparison guide to the changes on his law firm’s website here.

The revised document continues the FAA’s efforts to warn non-commercial UAV operators of the potential consequences of unsafe flying, saying: “Unmanned aircraft, including model aircraft, may pose a hazard to manned aircraft in flight and to persons and property on the surface if not operated safely. Model aircraft operations that endanger the safety of the National Airspace System, particularly careless or reckless operations or those that interfere with or fail to give way to any manned aircraft may be subject to FAA enforcement action.”

Another significant change was increasing the distance UAVs can fly near airports without notifying the airport operator from three miles to five miles. The revised advisory also notes the model aircraft operators must follow temporary flight restrictions (TFR) and refrain from flying in other restricted or prohibited areas without permission.

“Model aircraft operations that endanger the safety of the National Airspace System, particularly careless or reckless operations or those that interfere with or fail to give way to any manned aircraft may be subject to FAA enforcement action,” the revised circular warns.

Rupprecht, who’s also a commercial pilot and flight instructor, said he wasn’t sure why the FAA decided to revise the circular the way it did at this time.

“They gave us a heads-up on what their thinking was with the 2014 model aircraft rule interpretation that was published in the Federal Register,” he said. “We knew what was going on there. That was a fairly lengthy, well-explained notice.”

Rupprecht describe the revised advisory circular as “a patchwork of ‘don’t do this’ and ‘do that’ all over the place” that doesn’t provide a clear, concise standard for UAV hobbyists and recreational users.

For example, Rupprecht said the revised circular doesn’t define what constitutes an airport, leaving questions about whether small, privately owned, seldom used airports must be treated the same as busy metropolitan airports or whether first-person-view UAV flying is now allowed.

“The reason I’m really frustrated about this is that these are problems that my clients are having right now,” he said. “Even personally, flying recreationally, they’re problems I have.”

Rather than revising a 34-year-old advisory circular, Rupprecht said it would have been more helpful and less confusing if the FAA had simply replaced AC No. 91-57 with the 2014 model aircraft rule.

“That’s where AC 91-57A really fell short,” Rupprecht said. “They had the opportunity to clarify all of these areas, but they didn’t do that.”

On a positive note, Rupprecht said the revised advisory circular contains links to useful information on the FAA’s website.

“I give them kudos for attempting to educate the public more, such as on TFRs in your area,” he said. “It was a good step in the right direction. I just wish they would have clarified more areas.”

 

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