Recently, the FAA has mandated the registration of all sUAS which are greater than 250 grams. This was done because of the reckless use of “drones” or multi-rotors by people in highly populated areas and near airports.
According to the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, HR 658, a community based organization, or CBO, can oversee model aircraft so long as the aircraft operate within the guidelines of the rules outlined. A gross simplification of this means that in the special rule a set of guidelines were prescribed and a CBO would make sure that its members followed those rules. The Aeronautical Model Association, or AMA, is the designated CBO for hobbyist model airplane pilots.
Being part of the organization meant that a RC pilot would be registered. Since the AMA is a recognized CBO for model aircraft why can’t registration with this organization satisfy the whole issue that AMA has with model aircraft?! It turns out that the AMA had a gripe with this and asked the same question as well. Luckily, after some back and forth between the AMA and the FAA the FAA has agreed to allow AMA members to use their registration. Great! So the situation is exactly how it was prior to the FAA making registration mandatory. Perhaps it will force better AMA membership and further safety and awareness for those buying that multi-rotor next to the checkout aisle.
Here’s the problem. The people who will be guilty of unsafe operation of their aircraft will not be the ones to register with the AMA or the FAA. A multi-rotor can be purchased at Wal-Mart, a kiosk in a mall, or any other number of places outside the traditional hobby shop. When considering that many people make a majority of their purchases online it becomes apparent that their chance with encountering the suggestion to register with the AMA is very slim. Even with a government agency enforcing registration how does one force every online dealer to make it clear that the $20 quadracopter they’re selling and shipping from China needs to be registered before it’s flown! The registration of models will not prevent the issues that have been covered in the news.
When I heard the news of the registration process I baulked at the idea. Perhaps, I would just be an outlaw. I pay my membership to the AMA. I receive their benefits. Why should I register (and pay) again? Also, it was found out that the database of pilots wouldn’t be a tool just used by the FAA, the database would be public! So I decided that I’d wait and see if the AMA would fight on my behalf so that I wouldn’t have to worry about some personal information and a credit card number being compromised in the inevitable hack of the system.
Being a sailplane enthusiast, I frequent the sailplane forums at RCGroups.com. In some of the sub-forums the discussion revolved around a disturbing line in the FAA’s registration process. The wording in the special rule for model aircraft and in the AMA’s safety guidelines specify that pilots are to keep their aircraft under 400ft AGL and notify the operator when within a certain distance of an airport. The new FAA guidelines have changed this wording to make it clear that users are not to fly above 400ft. Period.
From the FAA’s website when you register:
- I will fly below 400 feet
- I will fly within visual line of sight
- I will be aware of FAA airspace requirements: faa.gov/go/uastfr
- I will not fly directly over people
- I will not fly over stadiums and sports events
- I will not fly near emergency response efforts such as fires
- I will not fly near aircraft, especially near airports
- I will not fly under the influence
Emphasis mine on the first point
Following this rule would mean the end of the RC soaring. The typical launch altitude for altitude limited electronic soaring is 150 meters. That is just short of 500 ft. On a good thermal day I could take my Gracia Maxi to 2000+ ft without much effort. Now I’m all for sensible flying when you take into account the location of the site where you’re operating, but the typical RC field is located out and away from people and any air traffic. How could any RC sailplane pilot expect to fly, let alone compete, with a ceiling of 400 ft?! Even when I fly my powered models it is very, very easy to surpass 400ft.
Well, I finally bit the bullet and registered. It appeared to me that the AMA was going to bend over on this one and we’d lose on having to register with the FAA. While some can argue that the registration in of itself is benign I’m more worried over the change in the rules that they clearly have all over their website.
I suppose it has come down to this: I intend to be an outlaw. I have contest sailplanes and DLGs which can easily go beyond 400ft AGL. Expect me to show up to any contest with the intent of breaking that rule as much as often as I can.
So register yourself at the FAA. Hope that their database isn’t hacked and that they secured your credit card number. Weep next time a newscaster mentions the “reckless drone pilot” because it will just mean the loss of more of the wonder that is this RC hobby.
Also remember, the FAA’s moto is:
We’re not happy until you’re not happy.