Drone Regulation Part I: Model Aircraft

Understanding the current state of drone policy is surprisingly challenging. In this first part of a series of posts, I want to address the policies relevant to the most common category of drone, hobby and recreational aircraft.

In 1981, the FAA set rules for hobby aircraft in an advisory circular. The rules were simple and lasted all the way through 2012:

  1. Be safe and don’t annoy people.
  2. Don’t fly over 400 feet.
  3. Contact ATC if you are within 3 miles of an airport.

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 finally changed this. When Congress started to get serious about regulating unmanned aircraft, there was concern in the hobby community that remote control toys would be a casualty of the rush to ban drones. Fortunately, the FAA MRA 2012 explicitly dealt with this concern. A specific category of hobby aircraft were exempted from the rest of the FAA’s regulations as long as those aircraft meet these requirements:

  1. It must be “flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft”.
  2. It must have “hobby or recreational” purposes.
  3. It must weigh less than 55 lbs.
  4. It must not endanger manned aircraft.
  5. It must have the permission of ATC if flown within 5 miles of an airport.
  6. It must be “operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization”.

The first five items are not particularly complicated. The sixth is cryptic, but in practice it refers to the Academy of Model Aeronautics and it’s safety code. The safety code is condensed into one page, and I encourage you to go read it for yourself. If you want to fly with added video capabilities, commonly referred to as First Person Video (FPV), you should also read the AMA’s FPV Rules.

This is it. No other area of UAV regulation will be this simple! Please let me know if you have any corrections, I am after all, only mortal.

Please do not use this guidance as legal advice, contact your local AMA chapter or an attorney if you have questions as to how these rules apply to you.

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