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FAA cleans up and removes special rule for model aircraft

FAA cleans up and removes special rule for model aircraft

Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it had cleaned up and removed the Special Rule for Model Aircraft. The change was made public in the Federal Register on December 11, 2020.

FAA cleans up and removes special rules for model aircraft

Last week, the FAA announced in the Federal Register that it had removed the Special Rule for Model Aircraft to clean up any inconsistencies between the FAA’s regulations and current statutory law.

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 included provisions to allow for drones or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to operate in the National Airspace System.

Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 defined “model aircraft” 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.

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 prohibited the FAA from proclaiming a rule or regulation affecting model aircraft that were operated under the following circumstances.

  1. the aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use;
  2. the aircraft is operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization;
  3. the aircraft is limited to not more than 55 pounds unless otherwise certified through a design, construction, inspection, flight test, and operational safety program
    administered by a community-based organization;
  4. the aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft; and
  5. when flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located
    at the airport) with prior notice of the operation (model aircraft operators flying from a permanent location within 5 miles of an airport should establish a mutually-agreed upon
    operating procedure with the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport)).

However, the FAA did maintain its right to enforce action against operators of model aircraft that would endanger the National Airspace System.

A final rule to allow the operation of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the National Airspace System (NAS) was issued by the FAA on June 28, 2016. The rule “Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems” included a new subpart E to 14 CFR part 101, implementing section 336.

Subpart E – Special Rule for Model Aircraft

§ 101.41 Applicability.

This subpart prescribes rules governing the operation of a model aircraft (or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft) that meets all of the following conditions as set forth in section 336 of Public Law 112-95:

(a) The aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use;

(b) The aircraft is operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization;

(c) The aircraft is limited to not more than 55 pounds unless otherwise certified through a design, construction, inspection, flight test, and operational safety program administered by a community-based organization;

(d) The aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft; and

(e) When flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport) with prior notice of the operation.

§ 101.43 Endangering the safety of the National Airspace System.

No person may operate model aircraft so as to endanger the safety of the national airspace system.

However, the “Special Rule for Model Aircraft” was repealed when President Trump signed into law the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 on October 5, 2018, and was replaced with the “Exception for limited recreational operations of unmanned aircraft.” This resulted in 14 CFR part 101, subpart E no longer reflecting the current statutory law.

The final rule published by the FAA last week resolves this inconsistency by:

  1. removing 14 CFR part 101, subpart E, and,
  2. amends references to it from 14 CFR 61.8 (Inapplicability of unmanned aircraft operations) and 14 CFR 107.1(b)(2) (Applicability of part 107) and,
  3. removing the now obsolete definition of “model aircraft” from 14 CFR part 1.

DroneXL’s take

So, what does this all mean? Well, to me, with my limited legal understanding, the removal of the special rule for model aircraft by the FAA is not much more than getting rid of some old and no longer relevant legal language.

However, we can expect other changes coming soon as the FAA currently has a new advisory circular (AC 91-57C )under review by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that includes “a process for community-based organization (CBO) recognition, information regarding the upcoming knowledge and safety test, and possibly night flying in controlled airspace,” according to the AMA. The advisory circular is expected to be made public within the next six weeks, an industry insider told DroneXL this morning.

Please let me know what you think about this latest change from the FAA and any possible wider implications that I may have missed in the comments below.

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Haye Kesteloo

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