Incidents prompt FAA to clarify rules for UAS hobbyists

By Patrick C. Miller | July 31, 2014

The reckless use of unmanned model aircraft near airports and large crowds has prompted the FAA to clarify its rules.

The agency published a Federal Register notice on its interpretation of the statutory special rules for model aircraft in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

“We want people who fly model aircraft for recreation to enjoy their hobby—but to enjoy it safely,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “At DOT, we often say that safety is a shared responsibility, so to help, we are providing additional information today to make sure model aircraft operators know exactly what’s expected of them.”

In the notice, the FAA defines the law’s definition of “model aircraft,” including requirements that they not interfere with manned aircraft, be flown within sight of the operator and be operated only for hobby or recreational purposes. The agency also explains that model aircraft operators flying within five miles of an airport must notify the airport operator and air traffic control tower.

The FAA emphasized that model aircraft provisions apply only to hobby or recreation operations and do not authorize the use of model aircraft for commercial operations. The notice gives examples of hobby or recreation flights, as well as examples of operations that would not meet that definition.

“We have a mandate to protect the American people in the air and on the ground, and the public expects us to carry out that mission,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

The agency said the law is clear that the FAA may take enforcement action against model aircraft operators who operate their aircraft in a manner that endangers the safety of the national airspace system. The FAA explained that this enforcement authority is designed to protect users of the airspace as well as people and property on the ground.

The FAA said it will be working with its inspectors and model aircraft operators across the country to ensure they give standard information to the public on how to satisfy these statutory requirements and avoid endangering the safety of the nation’s airspace.

The FAA is also developing a plan to work with the law enforcement community to help it understand the FAA’s rules for unmanned aircraft systems, as well as the special statutory rules for model aircraft operators to more effectively protect public safety.