FAA Scrapping Its 33-Year-Old Guidelines for Model Aircraft Operations

Posted by Betsy Lillian on October 15, 2014 1 Comment
Categories : Policy & Regulations

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is in the process of canceling Advisory Circular (AC) 91-57, Model Aircraft Operating Standards – the guidelines that have been in place 33 years for model aircraft operators.

The agency says in an Oct. 10 cancellation memo from Gary A. Norek, manager of the airspace policy and regulations group, that the standards in AC 91-57 are not valid anymore. The AC, which went into effect on June 9, 1981, “outlines, and encourages voluntary compliance with, safety standards for model aircraft operators,” the original document says.

These voluntary operating standards include staying away from crowds of people and “noise sensitive” areas, flying under 400 feet, avoiding manned aircraft, and staying three miles away from airports.

However, the AC is now “superseded by statutory language in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Section 336,” according to the cancellation memo, which has now been removed from the agency's site. “The FAA has issued an interpretation regarding the scope of the special rule, and the FAA’s enforcement activity over model aircraft is affirmed by the statute. The new interpretation also provides guidance to the model aircraft industry. Therefore, the guidance in this AC is no longer applicable,” it says.

This interpretation, which can be viewed here, was issued by the agency in June, when the FAA restated the Act’s definition of “model aircraft,” including similar requirements that they do not interfere with manned aircraft, are flown within sight of the operator and are operated only for hobby or recreational purposes. The agency also explained that model aircraft operators flying within five miles of an airport must notify the airport operator and air traffic control tower.

Also in the interpretation, the FAA reaffirmed that the Act’s model aircraft provisions apply only to hobby or recreation operations and that the agency does not authorize the use of model aircraft for commercial operations.

The FAA added that it may take enforcement action against operators who operate their model aircraft in a manner that endangers the safety of the national airspace system. This is in contrast to AC 91-57, which says all guidelines are voluntary and does not warn of any repercussions for not adhering to them.

Several organizations later challenged the FAA’s interpretation by filing three lawsuits in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), for example, explained in its suit that the FAA’s purported interpretation effectively establishes an array of new regulations that model aircraft enthusiasts have never been subject to in the past and poses an immediate and direct hardship on model aviation.

“A new AC is under development and will be coordinated with the appropriate offices. A copy will be provided to your office for posting to your database,” the cancellation memo adds. A Motherboard report points out, in relation to this statement, that the FAA is considering releasing an AC that is not “legally binding” because it will lack a Congress-mandated rulemaking process, including the opportunity for the public to provide input.

AMA confirms in a post that the FAA has not yet officially canceled AC 91-57 but is, in fact, planning to do so. The agency will inform the public with more information when the time comes, AMA says.

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  1. The new 91-57A is an ignorant document. It extends the no-fly area for personal UAVs from the FRZ which is approximately 15-miles around National Airport to the entire ADIZ which is approximately 30 miles around National. Why? Most UAV operators are law abiding citizens and we don’t fly within the FRZ. The few outlaw operators in our community fly WITHIN the FRZ. So what good does extending the restricted area from 15 miles to 30 miles do? It just makes it harder for us law-abiding operators to find safe and legal places to exercise our hobby and passion. I hope the FAA powers-to-be come to their senses soon.

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