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Written by Rich Hanson, Government and Regulator Affairs
AMA in Action, Advocating for Members.
As featured in the March 2014 issue of
Model Aviation.

On January 11, 2014, the Academy of Model Aeronautics and the Federal Aviation Administration entered into an agreement establishing the platform upon which the AMA and the FAA will jointly work to ensure the continued safe operation of model aircraft in the National Airspace System.

James Williams, executive manager of the FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office, and AMA President Bob Brown signed the memorandum of understanding on the main stage at the annual AMA Expo in Ontario, California.

The signing of this landmark agreement is a momentous step forward and serves as a benchmark in the Academy’s efforts to safeguard model aviation. The execution of this document puts the FAA one step closer to fully enacting the Special Rule for Model Aircraft established as part of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

Video Coverage of Signing

Still to be realized is FAA’s formal recognition of the AMA as a community-based organization as described by Congress and the agency’s acknowledgment of AMA’s Safety Program as a means of substantiating the safety guidelines and overseeing the operation of recreational unmanned aircraft.

The AMA has served as the national body for model aviation for 77 years. During that time, the aeromodeling community has achieved an excellent safety record through adherence to AMA’s National Model Aircraft Safety Code. Under the agreement, the Academy will maintain its comprehensive safety program, including guidelines for emerging technologies such as recreational sUAS.

The AMA will serve as a focal point for the aeromodeling community, the hobby industry, and the FAA to communicate relevant and timely safety information, and will foster a “positive and cooperative environment” within the aeromodeling community toward the FAA and any applicable regulations.

In a news release following the event, the FAA stated that it “believes AMA’s detailed safety procedures promote safe model operations and serve as an excellent resource for AMA members and other nonmember model aircraft enthusiasts alike.”

The FAA’s UAS Integration Office will serve as the point of contact for addressing any issues of mutual concerns, and for its part, the FAA will review and advise the AMA on its safety program. The agency will also educate FAA field employees regarding AMA’s model aircraft operating standards and the latest aeromodeling technologies, and will foster a reciprocal cooperative attitude toward model aviation.

The Special Rule for Model Aircraft mandates that the FAA not regulate model aircraft operated within the safety programming of a community-based organization. The AMA and the FAA agree that working jointly in a cooperative fashion as described in the memorandum of understanding to ensure the continued safe operation of model aircraft meets the intent of the congressional directive.

The next step in the process is recognition of the AMA as a community-based organization. In a panel discussion during the Expo, James Williams stated that he expects the FAA order establishing the community-based organization criteria to be finalized within the next 30 days.

AMA submitted its proposal for recognition in January 2013. The establishment of this criteria paves the way for FAA’s formal recognition of the Academy of Model Aeronautics as a community-based organization as specified in the FAA Reauthorization Bill.

Institution of the community-based organization criteria will essentially enact the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, and when the criteria is officially recognized, the AMA will update its safety program to include the operating guidelines for complying with the safety criteria. The new guidelines for model aircraft operations in proximity to airports will be communicated to AMA members and clubs and the new procedures will be phased in throughout the coming year.

The enactment of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft does not necessarily mean certain aspects of the sUAS rule won’t have an impact on the aeromodeling community. Publication of the sUAS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and call for public comment has been repeatedly delayed since 2011.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s latest update of significant rulemaking now lists the planned publication date of the sUAS NPRM as November 2014. Please ensure that everyone you know is aware of the impending regulation. It’s important that those who share our love for this hobby are well informed and participate in the response to the proposed sUAS rule when the NPRM is published.

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