Comment on the Recent FAA "Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft"


The link for actually sending your comments to the FAA on the rule interpretation was buried in the first blog post. Thank you, Colin Snow, for posting it. I left my comments already, so we can see how this goes.

Comment here:!documentDetail;D=FAA-2014-0396-0001

Views: 1014

Comment by Rob Dunbar on June 26, 2014 at 11:25am

The FAA posting sure didn't make it easy to find where to comment. Thanks for the direct link.

Comment by Philip Giacalone on June 26, 2014 at 11:54am

Thanks for the link!

Here's one snippet from the document:

"In this interpretation, we explain the history of FAA oversight of model aircraft operations and the new statutory requirements that apply to model aircraft operations, and then clarify how the FAA intends to apply its enforcement authority to model aircraft operations that endanger the safety of the National Airspace System (NAS)."

The document goes on to emphasize that a model aircraft is defined as one that operates within line of sight. There are other requirements spelled-out in the document that also must be followed in order to be considered a model aircraft. It's worth taking a look at the document to get a clear understanding of those definitions. 

It is clear from this document that the FAA believes it has the authority to regulate model aircraft that do not operate with the definitions given. In other words, aircraft operating outside the definitions are not considered model aircraft and therefore fall squarely within their regulatory authority. 

Lastly, it seems very clear that the FAA will use their authority to reduce unsafe model aircraft operations in order to try to keep the airspace safe. 

My take-away is that our hobby community needs to work together to reduce unsafe model aircraft operations. I'm not sure how we do it. But we need to try. Otherwise new regulations are coming as the number air safety incidents rise. Fighting with the FAA won't stop these regulations, imo. Reducing the number of air safety incidents could. 

Comment by Gary McCray on June 26, 2014 at 2:31pm

I am going to prepare a response to this and I think it is important for us all to do so.

Aside from the unnecessary and unrewarding intention to ban FPV goggles for flight in the US, there are a lot of things the FAA is doing in this document that make enforcement both realistically impossible and overwhelming and truly Draconian if they even try.

For instance the way it is now worded, if you are flying a RC plane and it temporarily goes behind a tree, you would now be interpreted as flying an illegal UAS in NAS airspace.

Pretty much happens thousands of time a day here in the US and normally not much would happen, but now assume that plane crashes and causes some liability, it is reasonable to expect that the litigants would bring in the FAA since it apparently falls under their jurisdiction.

This is not far fetched.

By so narrowly defining "model" airplanes and their legitimate use the FAA is increasing its enforcement role more than a hundred fold and to no good purpose for the people of the United States.

They will effectively oppose and retard very much the progress and advancement that the US has been contributing to the technical aspects of this field and they will put the US at a severe disadvantage versus living in almost any other country.

For the first time in my life it make me want to consider living somewhere else.

The FAA is taking the stance that safety is all that matters and there must be zero risk, this is not a criteria they currently operate with in their normal role.

Airplanes crash, people in the plane die and people and property on the ground are at risk.

If they are successful at making ours a zero risk undertaking it will be because they have been successful at eliminating it.

Comment by Gary McCray on June 26, 2014 at 5:32pm

Here is a copy of my response that I am preparing to send to the FAA.

I hope it might serve as a source for those interested in also responding and I would appreciate any feedback regarding content as I will not send it for a few days.

It is not short.

Dear Sirs,

I have been a member of the aero modeling community for 50 years, starting with control line and then single channel and galloping ghost RC.

During this time I have left and reentered this rewarding hobby several times, but for the last several years I have been involved in the more advanced UAV and FPV areas of the hobby.

Frankly at times I have had concerns with safety over the increasing rate at which new and inexperienced people were getting into this hobby and simply charging off on their own.

However, our hobby has always had an exceptional safety record, given the millions of RC model aircraft flights and the relatively few serious incidents, it seems to me that the FAA should be looking to us for guidance rather than seeking to bring our hobby to its knees.

The AMA has certainly had a major role in keeping our activity and us as safe as it has and yet your recent “Notice of an interpretation concerning model aircraft” appears to go against that.

You are removing from their capable and very safety oriented guidance and support the entire set of criteria which we have been successfully operating under.

It also seems to me you are taking on a completely unenforceable set of interpretations which will leave virtually all of the existing model airplane pilots in the unenviable position of suddenly finding themselves in the position of at various times now flying what has come to be by your interpretation an unauthorized UAS in NAS airspace and thus under your immediate jurisdiction.

For instance, in the course of normal RC airplane flying, it is perfectly common to occasionally lose sight of your airplane or air vehicle momentarily behind a tree or some other instruction.

By the strict interpretation you have made for “visual line of sight” and your interpretation of violating any of the “rules” you have established, this vehicle would immediately become an unauthorized UAS violating NAS airspace and subject to immediate legal action by you.

In the real world this means that if something happens, you will be called on by one or both litigants in any legal dispute.

Worse, even in non-legal disputes (I saw a plane fly behind a tree so the flying field should be closed down) you will be called on as a primary arbiter.

I can’t believe you think this is a good thing, Are you planning on hiring several thousand FAA (enforcers)?

At some level public liability to property and people on the ground are certainly not representative of a safety concern for NAS airspace, some accidents will happen and they are, by and large already dealt with by existing and future civil and criminal law.

Safety for airspace directly concerns the safety of manned and (unmanned) aerial vehicles operating in that airspace in relation to each other and generally should not extend to safety of people and property on the ground as it relates to model aircraft.

If a model airplane is interfering with an aircraft or airport operations, that is your concern, if it crashes into my neighbors rose bush it is not and should not be your concern. (For your own sakes you really need to realize this).

You are completely overreaching and reinterpreting your own laws and rules to even draw the conclusions you have.

As for banning FPV goggles based on a narrow and unsupported by any other body anywhere reinterpretation of “Visual Line Of Sight” to narrowly mean that literally at all times you must be able to clearly see the “vehicle” with no impediment between the observer and the model plane.

Common use of the term doesn’t mean that at all, it simply means that there is no physical obstruction between the observer and the target object.

In fact the target object could be a thousand miles away and completely invisible to the naked eye, but it would still be in visual line of sight.

The “line” is the key piece of information in the definition of this phrase, not whether you can actually see it or not and the term “visual” does not actually modify it to mean so.

Then you go on to define what is an obstruction - you have basically stated everything is an obstruction and then listed a few examples, binoculars and FPV goggles for instance.

What you have not listed are sunglasses and even eye glasses or contact lens’s, surely they are just as significant a “hindrance” to line of sight as binoculars (which actually aid, not hinder your vision) , this could end up being an aspect in many suits that you will be called on to assist with.

Specifically, of course, there are the FPV goggles which you are clearly bent on banning, certainly in some sense they do obstruct line of sight, but consider the alternative which you are not banning and in fact can’t ban, flying FPV with a monitor.

To use a monitor, the operator must divert their eyes (voluntarily) from the plane to see the monitor, but since it is their choice when and how, you cannot simply ban this.

The reality is this is a much less safe mode of FPV flight because the monitors are an intrinsically considerably less satisfactory mode of FPV flying they provide less visual detail and are subject to external effects (Sun shining on the screen and other distractions).

The immersive aspect of goggle based FPV flying with the extreme wide angle cameras that are used is what actually makes them safe, in fact, even safer than normal ground based RC flight.

FPV goggles can be discarded in a second and regaining orientation to see the plane is a learned skill, not simply a hazard to be banned.

The AMA helps us get the training we need to learn how to do that kind of task successfully and safely.

It is actually much easier to see and avoid hazards around you with the goggles than either with a “monitor screen” or even than flying normal ground referenced RC.

You are in fact contributing to a much less safe flying environment in the future rather than actually contributing to increased safety as would seem to be your primary mandate.

If you put in place and actively enforce the interpretations and rules you have stated her, you will categorically destroy the future of model – hobby airplane use in the US.

You will also throw away the current technological lead and the future growth of both our hobby and commercial UAS use in the United States as well, leaving it to almost all other countries to succeed where you have brought about our failure.

Contrary to your (and your buddies) current hopes, Grumman, Boeing, Raytheon and Northrup will not be the core of future global UAS, rather infinitely less expensive ventures.

Right now in the US, quadcopter sales are exploding, a very significant portion of those have varying degrees of FPV capability.

My view is that you have no possible chance of stopping this and that you would be much better off to establish a fair and reasonable set of regulations that simply define consequences for using any of this in an unsafe or dangerous manner rather than trying to regulate it out of existence.

Video goggles will be in use on tens of thousands of robot and rover ground vehicles within a few years, you stand no chance at all of keeping them from being used on thousands of quadcopters.

Right now it may seem easy to just ban it, but reality is that you will simply create a major nightmare for your self and the American Public.


Gary R. McCray

Comment by Philip Giacalone on June 26, 2014 at 9:17pm

Gary -- It's a very well written response. It hits many of the key points from the perspective of the hobby. 

But I think it also misses the key perspective of the FAA and the main reasons for their recent actions. IMO, the FAA is not so much concerned about the common types of model crashes we have while flying per AMA rules. Or whether FPV is safer or not while flying under AMA rules. 

What the FAA does appear concerned about are FPV pilots that are flying way above 400 feet (sometimes at thousands of feet), and flying miles beyond line of sight, and even flying this way at night. 

One only has to look on youtube to see examples of the dangers to aviation these crazy hobby pilots are creating. Aside from piloting dangerous and illegal flights, they are also posting their videos online. These videos are hard evidence of the growing dangers. 

Here is one examples of an FPV flight over Texas.

This pilot takes his hobby aircraft on a 40 mile FPV flight, much of it at high altitude. Worse yet, note the positive comments he gets on youtube and questions about how to build a plane to do the same thing. This is scary to witness. The FAA simply has to respond, no?

Another place to look for the FAA's main concern is the growing number of reports by commercial pilots of hobby aircraft seen flying near their aircraft. These formally reported incidents must get their full and active attention. As an agency, this has always been their rightful focus. 

IMO, it is the growing evidence of these dangers that are of primary concern of the FAA. Not the frequent crashes of our hobby planes into tree and bushes while flying per AMA rules, but the real potential for crashes between hobby planes and passenger aircraft. 

I agree that we should submit our comments and concerns to the FAA. This is a democracy and all parties should have a voice. I also agree that the FAA is going to have a hard time with enforcing any new regulations put in place.

But IMO, the hobby's concerns will be seen as secondary to the FAA's main focus on air safety. This hobby is fun and educational. But air safety and risks to human life will take higher priority -- the FAA will error on the side of safety, logically. 

So perhaps our best bet for the hobby is to pull together to communicate and educate about flight safely and the importance of following the rules. Pilots flying outside the rules should get negative feedback in no uncertain terms, for example. 

Reducing future safety incidents is really our only hope at preventing new regulations, imo. It'll only take one crash between a hobby aircraft and a real aircraft to trigger a major regulatory response, right? Maybe our focus should be to work as best we can to avoid that incident. It's a tough problem and we need a community to work on it. 

Fly safely. 

Comment by Bill Patterson on June 26, 2014 at 9:30pm
Nice. One note though. Northrop and Grumman are the same company.
Comment by Rob Burrows on June 27, 2014 at 2:14am

Philip, Well said!  I agree that about pulling together to educate and communicate about flying safely.  One facet of that approach as you point out is by providing negative to feedback on videos that appear unsafe.  I suggest if any one feels a video posted is unsafe, unwise, or inconsiderate that you "dislike" it and comment on it.  If another sees the comment then give it a like and with enough thumbs up it will rise to the Top Comments.  And/or provide another comment. 

After I viewed that video from Texas, below is what I propose to post.  Let me know if you would give it a "like". It may be a small number of folks doing this at first but hopefully it will grow and the peer pressure will start to work.

"Your flight was an amazing technical achievement but at face value it seemed VERY dangerous.  I did not see or hear any mention of safety precautions that you took.  You were flying well into altitudes where small passenger aircraft fly and you did not have visual line of sight of your plane or even the ability to visually clear the airspace at a distance of 20 miles.  I also did not see where you had a spotter but it appeared you flew with video goggles."

Comment by Rob Burrows on June 27, 2014 at 2:16am

BTW the criteria for "unsafe, unwise, or inconsiderate" would the be current AMA guidelines for flying FPV.

Comment by Gary McCray on June 27, 2014 at 9:40am

Hi Philip,

I couldn't agree more, that one problem with FPV is that some people aren't following the rules.

But that is a problem of not rule following, not FPV.

With our autonomous autopilots we can also have automatic cross country flights.

Or even with a free flight airplane we can set it or 5000 feet and get it to fly for a long time.

But of course all of that is our choice, just like not running over pedestrians in our car.

There are of course 2 ways the FAA can go about ensuring compliance.

On the one hand it can simply make any activity illegal that could possibly be used by anyone to break any "rule" or it can simply force the people who do to face the consequences of their actions.

From a simplistic standpoint it is always simply easier to outlaw everything that gives one an opportunity to do something stupid.

But it is not a public service and it simply removes an option for the many because of the potential actions of an inconsiderate few.

Just like the gangs with guns and gun control, you also have to think if that same inconsiderate few are going to pay the slightest attention to the law outlawing FPVgoggles either.

And as I pointed out the FAA isn't really outlawing FPV, just goggles which are actually considerably safer than LCD monitor screens.

People always have final determination of whether they will follow the rules or not, but generally they do and if we were to take a stronger stance of making the "rules" of safe and reasonable flight an important issue, maybe we could help people understand what is expected and necessary from them.

As Rob above said, a note or Email response that we could post attach to those who publish clearly unsafe flights and possibly mention that the FAA is very likely to be interested in their video or blog.

People break these rules for two reasons, first they genuinely don't know any better - we need to tell them.

And second to gain fame or acceptance - we need to let them know in no uncertain terms what we think of their "accomplishment".

The bottom line is unless your going to simply regulate our whole hobby out of existence, a much better approach is to simply establish the reasonable flight rules (altitude, LOS, airport proximity) and then pursue those who break them, mostly we don't want to break them, we just have to know what they are.

Until now, aside from "voluntary guidelines" there haven't been any rules.

@ Bill, I'm going to remove that whole paragraph, it was off point and unnecessarily irritating.

Comment by Gary McCray on June 27, 2014 at 11:03am

Hi Theo,

Of course, that is right, there will always be those who break the rules, but it is far more profitable to society in general to simply deal with the intentional rule breakers directly than to try and suppress the society as a whole.

Especially so in our own self proclaimed Democracy.


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