FAA Officially Replaces 34-Year-Old Model Aircraft Guidelines

The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Advisory Circular (AC) 91-57, Model Aircraft Operating Standards, containing guidelines for model aircraft operators since 1981, has now been canceled, and in its place is a new set of standards: AC 91-57A.

The new AC pertains to “persons operating unmanned aircraft (UA) for hobby or recreation purposes.”

According to the FAA, the previous guidance, as written in 1981, did not reflect the rules Congress wrote into Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

The updated advisory circular details the 2012 law’s description of a “model aircraft operation,” the agency says.

Thus, according to the FAA, the new guidance makes it clear that hobbyist unmanned aircraft operations that endanger the safety of the nation’s airspace – particularly, careless or reckless operations and interference with manned aircraft – may be subject to FAA enforcement action.

In comparison, AC 91-57 maintained that its guidelines were voluntary and did not warn of any repercussions for operators who did not adhere to them. Instead, it said compliance would “help reduce the potential” for danger to manned aircraft and other people and would “create a good neighbor environment with affected communities and airspace users.”

The new guidance stresses that model aircraft operators must comply with all Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs), that they may not fly in any type of restricted airspace without prior authorization, and that they must be aware of Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) that address flights near federal facilities, stadiums, and other public and industrial areas.

On the other hand, the old guidance, which does not mention TFRs or NOTAMs, only advises operators to maintain a “sufficient distance” from populated and/or noise-sensitive areas (e.g., schools and churches) and stay away from other people “until the aircraft is successfully flight tested and proven airworthy.”

AC 91-57 also advises operators to notify airport officials if flying within three miles of an airport; AC 91-57A says operators must now do so within five miles of an airport.

Last fall, an FAA cancellation memo was released that said the standards in AC 91-57 were no longer valid because they were superseded by the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Section 336.

However, the FAA revealed shortly after the issuance of the cancellation memo that the notice was an error and that the agency would, indeed, be canceling these guidelines – but not yet.

Fast forward almost one year, and the 34-year-old guidelines are now officially kaput.


  1. I feel SO much safer now that FAA has decided to regulate my basement full of model aircraft, none of which weighs more than about 5 lbs, none of which can be guided past line of sight, and most of which don’t have motors. Also my stick and tissue free flight models and my free flight gliders, which I launch with a rubber band. (all under 12 or 15 grams at the moment).

    I hope they’ll allow an exemption for Frisbees and tennis balls!

    However, I think they’d have saved more lives by mandating healthy airline food.


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