FAA Starts Working With Hobbyists To Draft Safety Guidelines For Model Aircraft And Drones

The FAA today announced that it is working with the Academy for Model Aeronautics (AMA), the largest organization for model aircraft enthusiasts in the U.S., to create safety guidelines for model aircraft and drones.

Many model aircraft hobbyists already belong to the AMA or at least know about its guidelines (don’t fly higher than 400 feet, don’t fly within three miles of an airport, etc.). Recently, however, the advent of relatively affordable, easy-to-fly model aircraft — GPS-enabled quadcopters that can easily fly up to a thousand feet and even autonomous drones — has added a large number of new users. In addition, the FAA notes, some high-end model aircraft can now have wingspans over 20 feet and have multiple jet engines.

Given that the FAA has started its work on integrating commercial drones into the national airspace system, working with enthusiasts to create safety guidelines for how they can safely fly is a sensible move. Many of the potential commercial drones, after all, are essentially the same machines that today’s hobbyists play with.

As part of the agreement between the FAA and AMA, the AMA will “establish and maintain a comprehensive safety program for its members, including guidelines for emerging technologies such as model UAS.”

While the FAA doesn’t have authority to regulate model aircraft, it’s clearly in the best interest for both organizations to work closely together. The AMA knows that it just takes somebody with a ready-to-fly drone who flies too close to an airport and hits a plane, or somebody who crashes a quadcopter into a group of people and hurts somebody to get the government to mandate regulations. Part of the AMA’s mission is to work with the government to promote its members’ mission. The organization says it has over 150,000 members.

According to Jim Williams, the head of the FAA’s UAS Integration Office, “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.”

Bonus: Just for fun, here is a video that would make both the FAA and AMA cringe: