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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.

Posted in Drone Policy, US Drone Policy |

Announcing the Drones & Aerial Robotics Conference

Today, we’re pleased to announce the Drones & Aerial Robotics Conference—a first of a kind event this October 11-13th in New York City.

Imagine a near future in which networks of autonomous robots roam the skies, performing everything from law enforcement, to communications, to crop dusting, shipping and logistics. Sound implausible? Perhaps—but that is the future that the aerospace industry and a new class of entrepreneurs are busy preparing.

The Drones & Aerial Robotics Conference —or DARC, for short— is presented by the NYU Engelberg Center on Innovation Law and Policy. At heart, DARC is a full spectrum conference – participants and presenters will come from many disciplines. Expect demos, hands-on workshops, panels, talks, screenings, and much more.

There’s a lot in store, and we can’t wait to share it with you.

Get Involved

There’s a reason drones capture the public imagination: they’re a defining technology of the zeitgeist, and they deserve deep study. More than a conference about the law, DARC will be a weekend of practical learnings from engineers, backyard hobbyists, drone journalists, and manufacturers of multimillion dollar aircraft. DARC will foster constructive discourse around the anxieties and aspirations that arise so readily, when UAV’s or Drones come up in conversation.

If you’re interested in leading a session at DARC, the call for proposals is open today. We’ve compiled a list of substantive legal and general interest questions to start the discussion.

You can also follow @droneconference on Twitter and sign up to get email updates on the conference.

We hope to see you in New York this October 11-13th, 2013!

Posted in Announcements |