FAA set down guidelines for flying RC Drones

Practice makes perfect, here the
author is practicing flying a drone
without a camera on it in smooth and easy transitional flight.


The FAA has released some current guidelines to be used when flying remote control aircraft. These guidelines were obviously hastily put together and do not consider the RC modeling community. Which is been around for a number of years. AMA who currently regulates Model Aviation has also released a statement regarding these guidelines. Be sure to check it out at the end of this article.




Federal Aviation Administration 

14 CFR Part 91 

[Docket No. FAA-2014-0396] 

Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft 

AGENCY: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), DOT.

ACTION: Notice of Interpretation with Request for Comment

SUMMARY: This action provides interested persons with the opportunity to comment on the FAA’s interpretation of the special rule for model aircraft established by Congress in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. In this interpretation, the FAA clarifies that: model aircraft must satisfy the criteria in the Act to qualify as model aircraft and to be exempt from future FAA rulemaking action; and consistent with the Act, if a model aircraft operator endangers the safety of the National Airspace System, the FAA has the authority to take enforcement action against those operators for those safety violations.


ADDRESSES: You may send comments identified by docket number FAA-2014-0396 using any of the following methods:

• Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to http://www.regulations.gov and follow the online instructions for sending your comments electronically.2

• Mail: Send Comments to Docket Operations, M-30; US Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE., West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, West Building Ground Floor, Washington, DC 20590-0001.

• Hand Delivery: Take comments to Docket Operations in Room W12-140 of the West Building Ground Floor at 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE., Washington, DC, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays.

• Fax: (202) 493-2251.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Dean E. Griffith, Attorney, Regulations Division, Office of the Chief Counsel, Federal Aviation Administration, 800 Independence Avenue SW., Washington, DC 20591; telephone: (202) 267-3073; email: dean.griffith@faa.gov.


Comments Invited 

The FAA invites interested persons to submit written comments, data, or views concerning this interpretation. The most helpful comments reference a specific portion of the interpretation, explain the reason for any recommended change, and include supporting data. To ensure the docket does not contain duplicate comments, please send only one copy of written comments, or if you are filing comments electronically, please submit your comments only one time.

The FAA will file in the docket all comments received, as well as a report summarizing each substantive public contact with FAA personnel concerning this interpretation. The FAA will consider all comments received on or before the closing date for comments and any late-filed comments if it is possible to do so without incurring 3

expense or delay. While this is the FAA’s interpretation of statute and regulations relevant to model aircraft, the FAA may modify this interpretation based on comments received.

Availability of This Interpretation 

You can get an electronic copy using the Internet by—

(1) Searching the Federal eRulemaking Portal (http://www.regulations.gov);

(2) Visiting the FAA’s Regulations and Policies web page at http://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/; or

(3) Accessing the Government Printing Office’s web page at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/fr/index.html.

You can also get a copy by sending a request to the Federal Aviation Administration, Office of Rulemaking, ARM-1, 800 Independence Avenue SW., Washington, DC 20591, or by calling (202) 267-9680. Make sure to identify the docket number or notice number of this proposal.


The FAA is issuing this interpretation because we have received many inquiries regarding the scope of the special rule for model aircraft in section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and the FAA’s enforcement authority over model aircraft as affirmed by the statute. In this interpretation, we explain the history of FAA oversight of model aircraft operations and the new statutory requirements that apply to model aircraft operations, and then clarify how the FAA intends to apply its enforcement authority to model aircraft operations that endanger the safety of the National Airspace System (NAS). 4

Discussion of the Interpretation 

I. Background of FAA Oversight of Model Aircraft Operations 

Historically, the FAA has considered model aircraft to be aircraft that fall within the

statutory and regulatory definitions of an aircraft, as they are contrivances or devices that are “invented, used, or designed to navigate, or fly in, the air.” See 49 USC 40102 and 14 CFR 1.1. As aircraft, these devices generally are subject to FAA oversight and enforcement. However, consistent with FAA’s enforcement philosophy, FAA’s oversight of model aircraft has been guided by the risk that these operations present. The FAA first recognized in 1981 that “model aircraft can at times pose a hazard to full-scale aircraft in flight and to persons and property on the surface,” and recommended a set of voluntary operating standards for model aircraft operators to follow to mitigate these safety risks. See Advisory Circular 91-57, Model Aircraft Operating Standards (June 9, 1981). These operating standards included restricting operations over populated areas, limiting use of the devices around spectators until after the devices had been flight tested and proven airworthy; restricting operations to 400 feet above the surface; requiring that the devices give right of way to, and avoid flying near manned aircraft, and using observers to assist in operations.

These guidelines were further clarified in 2007, when the FAA issued a policy

statement regarding unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations in the NAS. See 72 Fed. Reg. 6689 (Feb. 13, 2007). In this policy statement, the FAA also recognized that UAS fall within the statutory and regulatory definition of “aircraft” as they are devices that are “used or [are] intended to be used for flight in the air with no onboard pilot.” Id.; see also 49 U.S.C. 40102; 14 CFR 1.1. The FAA noted that they can be “as simple as a 5

remotely controlled model aircraft used for recreational purposes or as complex as surveillance aircraft flying over hostile areas in warfare.” The FAA then stated its current policy regarding UAS based on the following three categories: (1) UAS used as public aircraft; (2) UAS used as civil aircraft; and (3) UAS used as model aircraft.

With respect to UAS used as model aircraft, the FAA reiterated the operating guidelines in AC 91-57, and further noted that to qualify as a model aircraft, the aircraft would need to be operated purely for recreational or hobby purposes, and within the visual line of sight of the operator. The policy statement also clarified that AC 91-57 applied only to modelers and “specifically excludes its use by persons or companies for business purposes.” 72 FR at 6690.

II. Requirements to Qualify as a Model Aircraft under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-95, section 336). 

A. Statutory Requirements

On February 14, 2012, the President signed into law the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-95) (the Act), which established, in Section 336, a “special rule for model aircraft.” In Section 336, Congress confirmed the FAA’s long-standing position that model aircraft are aircraft. Under the terms of the Act, a model aircraft is defined as “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.” P.L. 112-95, section 336(c). Congress’ intention to define model aircraft as aircraft is further established by section 331(8) of the Act, which defines an unmanned aircraft as “an aircraft that is operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft.” Congress’ 6 14 C.F.R. 1.1. Although model aircraft may take many forms, at a base level model aircraft are clearly “invented, used, or designed” to fly in the air.

definition of model aircraft is consistentwith the FAA’sexisting definition of aircraft as“any contrivance invented, used, or designed to navigate, or fly in, the air.”49 U.S.C. 40102; see also14 C.F.R. 1.1. Although model aircraft may take many forms, at a baselevel model aircraft are clearly “invented, used,or designed” to fly in the air.Id.

Section 336 also prohibits the FAAfrompromulgating“any rule or regulation regardinga model aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a modelaircraft” if the following statutory requirementsare met:

•the aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use;

•the aircraft is operated in accordance with a community-based setof safetyguidelinesand within the programmingof a nationwidecommunity-based organization;

•the aircraft is limited to not more than 55 pounds unlessotherwise certified through a design, construction, inspection, flight test, and operational safety program administered bya community-basedorganization;

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

•when flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraftprovides the airport operator and the airport air trafficcontroltower … with prior notice of the operation….

P.L.112-95, section336(a)(1)-(5).


Thus, based on the language of the statute,we conclude thataircraftthat meet the statutory definition and operational requirements, asdescribed above, would beexempt7

from future FAA rulemaking action specifically regarding model aircraft. Model aircraft that do not meet these statutory requirements are nonetheless unmanned aircraft, and as such, are subject to all existing FAA regulations, as well as future rulemaking action, and the FAA intends to apply its regulations to such unmanned aircraft.

B. Model Aircraft Must Meet the Criteria in Section 336 to Be Exempt from Future Rulemaking

Congress directed that the FAA may not “promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft” if the aircraft is being operated, or being developed to be operated, pursuant to the five criteria enumerated in the statute as described above. P.L. 112-95, section 336(a). In other words, Congress has restricted the FAA from promulgating regulations, from the date when the statute was enacted, specifically regarding model aircraft that meet the terms of the statute.

However, the prohibition against future rulemaking is not a complete bar on rulemaking that may have an effect on model aircraft. As noted above, the rulemaking limitation applies only to rulemaking actions specifically “regarding a model aircraft or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft.” P.L. 112-95, section 336(a). Thus, the rulemaking prohibition would not apply in the case of general rules that the FAA may issue or modify that apply to all aircraft, such as rules addressing the use of airspace (e.g., the 2008 rule governing VFR operations in the Washington, DC area) for safety or security reasons. See 73 FR 46803. The statute does not require FAA to exempt model aircraft from those rules because those rules are not specifically regarding model aircraft. On the other hand, a model aircraft operated pursuant to the terms of section 336 would 8

potentially be excepted from a UAS aircraft certification rule, for example, because of the limitation on future rulemaking specifically “regarding a model aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft.” P.L. 112-95, section 336(a). The FAA interprets the section 336 rulemaking prohibition as one that must be evaluated on a rule-by-rule basis.

Although the FAA believes the statutory definition of a model aircraft is clear, the FAA provides the following explanation of the meanings of “visual line of sight” and “hobby or recreational purpose,” terms used in the definition of model aircraft, because the FAA has received a number of questions in this area.

By definition, a model aircraft must be “flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft.” P.L. 112-95, section 336(c)(2).1 Based on the plain language of the statute, the FAA interprets this requirement to mean that: (1) the aircraft must be visible at all times to the operator; (2) that the operator must use his or her own natural vision (which includes vision corrected by standard eyeglasses or contact lenses) to observe the aircraft; and (3) people other than the operator may not be used in lieu of the operator for maintaining visual line of sight. Under the criteria above, visual line of sight would mean that the operator has an unobstructed view of the model aircraft. To ensure that the operator has the best view of the aircraft, the statutory requirement would preclude the use of vision-enhancing devices, such as binoculars, night vision goggles, powered vision magnifying devices, and goggles designed to provide a “first-person view” from the model.2 Such devices would limit the operator’s field of view thereby

1 For purposes of the visual line of sight requirement, “operator” means the person manipulating the model aircraft’s controls.

2 The FAA is aware that at least one community-based organization permits “first person view” (FPV) operations during which the hobbyist controls the aircraft while wearing goggles that display images transmitted from a camera mounted in the front of the model aircraft. While the intent of FPV is to provide 9

a simulation of what a pilot would see from the flight deck of a manned aircraft, the goggles may obstruct an operator’s vision, thereby preventing the operator from keeping the model aircraft within his or her visual line of sight at all times.

3 In construing statutory language, agencies should assume that the ordinary meaning of the language accurately expresses the legislative purpose of Congress. Agencies are also permitted to presume that Congress was aware of the agencies’ administrative or adjudicative interpretations of certain terms and intended to adopt those meanings. See BedRoc Ltd. v. U.S., 541 U.S. 176, 183 (2004); see also Haig v. Agee, 453 U.S. 280, 300 (1981); Lorillard v. Pons, 434 U.S. 575, 580-81 (1978).

reducing his or her ability to see-and-avoid other aircraft in the area. Additionally, some of these devices could dramatically increase the distance at which an operator could see the aircraft, rendering the statutory visual-line-of-sight requirements meaningless. Finally, based on the plain language of the statute, which says that aircraft must be “flown within the visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft,” an operator could not rely on another person to satisfy the visual line of sight requirement. See id. (emphasis added). While the statute would not preclude using an observer to augment the safety of the operation, the operator must be able to view the aircraft at all times.

The statute requires model aircraft to be flown strictly for hobby or recreational purposes. Because the statute and its legislative history do not elaborate on the intended meaning of “hobby or recreational purposes,” we look to their ordinary meaning and also the FAA’s previous interpretations to understand the direction provided by Congress.www.merriam-webster.com (last accessed June 9, 2014). A definition of recreation is “3 A definition of “hobby” is a “pursuit outside one’s regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary, available at refreshment of strength and spirits after work; a means of refreshment or diversion.” Id. These uses are consistent with the FAA’s 2007 policy on model aircraft in which the Agency stated model aircraft 10 72 FR at 6690.11

To provide guidance, the following are examples of flights that could be conducted as hobby or recreation flights and other types of flights that would not be hobby or recreation. Hobby or Recreation Not Hobby or Recreation
Flying a model aircraft at the local model aircraft club. Receiving money for demonstrating aerobatics with a model aircraft.
Taking photographs with a model aircraft for personal use. A realtor using a model aircraft to photograph a property that he is trying to sell and using the photos in the property’s real estate listing.A person photographing a property or event and selling the photos to someone else.
Using a model aircraft to move a box from point to point without any kind of compensation. Delivering packages to people for a fee.
Viewing a field to determine whether crops need water when they are grown for personal enjoyment. Determining whether crops need to be watered that are grown as part of commercial farming operation.



Here is the FAA’s graphic card on the proposed guidelines.

(click on it to make it larger)




Here is the response from the AMA who currently regulates the  airspace for

Model aircraft.

Date: June 24, 2014


Contact: Rich Hanson



FAA Interpretive Rule addressing “Special Rule for Model Aircraft” 

Academy of Model Aeronautics response 

The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) has reviewed FAA’s recently released Interpretive Rule in which the agency provided its interpretation of the “Special Rule for Model Aircraft” established by Congress as part of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (Public Law 112-95). The Academy is extremely disappointed and troubled by the approach the FAA has chosen to take in regards to this issue.

As a community-based membership association, the AMA has managed and overseen the nation’s model aircraft activity for the past 77 years and has grown to over 165,000 members in all 50 states, the U.S. territories and at military installations around the world. Over the years the Academy has developed an effective safety program that has achieved an exceptional safety record and has evolved to accommodate new technologies, new modeling disciplines, and a diverse aeromodeling community. AMA’s achievements and ability to manage the model aircraft activity in a safe and harmonious fashion was recognized by Congress in its reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration in 2012. In an effort to protect the aeromodeling community from overreaching and onerous regulation, Congress established the Special Rule for Model Aircraft which exempts this activity from regulation provided it is conducted in accordance with and within the safety programing of a community-based organization, AMA.

States AMA President Bob Brown, “The FAA interpretive rule effectively negates Congress’ intentions, and is contrary to the law. Section 336(a) of the Public Law states that, ‘the Federal Aviation Administration may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft…’, this interpretive rule specifically addresses model aircraft, effectively establishes rules that model aircraft were not previously subject to and is in direct violation of the congressional mandate in the 2012 FAA reauthorization bill.”

The interpretive rule reflects the FAA’s disregard for and its unfamiliarity with the makeup of the modeling community. Nearly 20% of the AMA membership is 19 years old or younger and an even greater percentage is retirees over the age of 65. FAA’s intention to impose a strict regulatory approach to the operation of model aircraft in the hands of our youth and elderly members threatens to destroy a wholesome and enriching activity enjoyed by a vast cross-section of our society.

“AMA cannot support this rule.” said AMA Executive Director Dave Mathewson. “It is at best ill-conceived and at worst intentionally punitive and retaliatory. The Academy strongly requests the FAA reconsider this action. The AMA will pursue all available recourse to dissuade enactment of this rule.”

Founded in 1936, the Academy of Model Aeronautics continues to be devoted to the safe and responsible operation of model aircraft. With its nearly 2,400 clubs across the country, it serves as the nation’s collective voice for the aeromodeling community. Headquartered in Muncie IN, AMA is a membership organization representing those who fly model aircraft for recreation and educational purposes.

More information  from the AMA

Take action now


On Monday, June 23 rd, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released an Interpretive Rule in which it presented FAA’s interpretation of the “Special Rule for Model Aircraft” established by Congress in the FAA modernization and Reform Act of 2012. The Academy has reviewed the rule and is extremely disappointed and troubled by the approach the FAA has chosen to take in regards to this issue In its Press Release the FAA stated it was, “issuing the notice to provide clear guidance to model operators on the “do’s and don’ts” of flying safely in accordance with the Act and to answer many of the questions it has received regarding the scope and application of the rules.” It also stated, “(this) guidance comes after recent incidents involving the reckless use of unmanned model aircraft near airports and involving large crowds of people.” It’s important to note that very few of these cases have been factually documented and not a single incident was shown to involve a member of the AMA or to be connected in any way to modeling operations conducted under the auspices of the special rule. In AMA’s response to the rule it was pointed out that, “The FAA interpretive rule effectively negates Congress’ intentions, and is contrary to the law. Section 336(a) of the Public Law states that, ‘the Federal Aviation Administration may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft…’, this interpretive rule specifically  addresses model aircraft, effectively establishes rules that model aircraft were not previously subject to and is in direct violation of the congressional mandate in the 2012 FAA reauthorization bill.” AMA has voiced its opposition to FAA’s action and will pursue all available recourse to dissuade enactment of this rule. It’s important that every AMA member becomes involved in the effort.

The first step is to respond to the public comment period established in the notice. Look for a follow-up email from AMA with information on how to respond to the FAA notice. This is your opportunity to express your views and to comment on various aspects of the Interpretive Rule. It’s important for the Administration to know that this rule significantly impacts the entire aeromodeling community and that this community is resolute and committed to protecting the hobby. In this case silence IS NOT golden.

Please alert your friends, family members and fellow modelers regarding this issue.

Thank you,

AMA Government Relations

Updated: June 27, 2014 — 3:54 pm


Add a Comment
  1. Thanks for the thorough write up and for raising awareness on this important issue.

  2. I know this is long overdue, but I just stumbled across this article and remembered when the whole drone craze was getting out of control because of the lack of rules and regulations. Seems like their popularity has sure died down a lot since they first came out.

    1. Agreed. Everyone was freaking out about the lack of regulations and now people are complaining about too much regulation. Kinda crazy

  3. I think, there is already a set of rules for flying planes. This is for safety purpose.

  4. Im surprised that it’s almost the same as for RC copters and planes.

    Thanks for deep review.

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