On July 18, 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published a notice of interpretation for the special rules applicable to model aircraft under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (the Act).
The Act authorizes the FAA to integrate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System (NAS). A model aircraft qualifies as a type of UAS and the FAA established special rules for this type of aircraft. Due to public confusion regarding the rules, the FAA provided this recent interpretation to help clarify what constitutes a model aircraft and what qualifies model aircraft for exemption from future rulemaking. Additionally, the FAA elaborated on the scope of its authority to take enforcement action against those operators who commit safety violations.
The definition of a model aircraft that Congress provides is consistent with the FAA’s long-standing position that it is one that is operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft. As such, the FAA interpreted this portion of the Act in such a way that visual line of sight would mean that the operator has an unobstructed view of the model aircraft. If the UAS qualifies as a model aircraft, then the next question should be is it exempt from future rulemaking.
Congress restricted the FAA from establishing regulations regarding a model aircraft that meets certain exemption terms. These operational requirements are the source of confusion for those who operate model aircraft due to the uncertainty as to whether future rulemaking applies to them or not. A model aircraft that does not meet these statutory requirements is nonetheless an unmanned aircraft and as such is subject to all existing FAA regulations, as well as future rulemaking action.
The FAA concluded that it was the intent of Congress for the FAA to be able to rely on a range of existing regulations to protect users of the national airspace system, people, and property on the ground. As a result, regardless of whether a model aircraft satisfies the statutory and operation requirements mentioned above, if the model aircraft is operated in such a manner that endangers the safety of the NAS, the FAA may take enforcement action.If you are uncertain as to whether or not your UAS qualifies as a model aircraft or for future rulemaking exemptions, then contact Aviation Attorney Ronnie Gipson at (415)692-6523 or firstname.lastname@example.org.