January 13, 2014 –Today’s “model” aircraft are different from what many of us remember from our childhood. Back then, model aircraft were built for collections or display and a daring few even flew them for fun. Today, they can have wingspans approaching 20 feet and run on multiple small jet engines. A new dimension to model aircraft flying is the advent of inexpensive, ready-to-fly toy or model unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) that almost anyone can purchase and fly. The technology used to control these small UAS has advanced so significantly that many are controlled by applications on smartphones or tablets.
So it makes perfect sense for the FAA’s UAS Integration Office and the Academy for Model Aeronautics—the national body for model aviation for 77 years – to work together toward ensuring modelers fly their model aircraft/UAS without any risk to manned aircraft or to people and property on the ground.
On January 12, Jim Williams, head of the UAS Integration Office, and Academy of Model Aeronautics president Bob Brown signed an agreement formalizing a relationship between the FAA and AMA during the latter group’s annual expo in Ontario, Calif. The FAA believes AMA’s detailed safety procedures promote safe model operations and serve as an excellent resource for AMA members and other non-member model aircraft enthusiasts alike.
Under the agreement, AMA will serve as a focal point for the aero-modelling community, the hobby industry and the FAA to communicate relevant and timely safety information. The group will establish and maintain a comprehensive safety program for its members, including guidelines for emerging technologies such as model UAS. The group also agreed to foster a “positive and cooperative environment” with modelers toward the FAA and any applicable regulations.
For its part, the FAA will review and advise on the AMA safety program, using the UAS Integration Office to address any mutual issues or concerns. The agency also will educate FAA field employees about the latest aero-modelling technologies and operating standards to foster a reciprocal cooperative attitude toward the AMA.
The FAA-AMA pact is important because the 2012 FAA Reauthorization contained language specific to model aircraft. Congress mandated that the FAA cannot regulate model aircraft operated according to community-based standards developed by a national organization – a designation that AMA satisfies. Both the FAA and the aircraft modelers’ group believe jointly working to ensure continued safe operation of model aircraft will comply with the congressional directive.
In a broader sense, model aircraft safety is a concern for everyone, regardless of where they fly, whether they are a traditional radio-controlled aircraft or a UAS. As Jim Williams noted in his remarks to the group, “Safe model UAS operations will help to ensure that this industry continues to grow and bring the joy of recreational or hobby flying to more people than ever before.”