Update on FAA’s 400ft Guideline

This is an update to my last post about the FAA’s 400ft guideline.

Ever since the proposed registration was announced RCGroups’ Sailplane Talk forum had a discussion on the 400ft rule. I was catching up on some of the discussion there when I saw a post that mentioned that the AMA met with the FAA over some of the major concerns that members had with the wording placed on their site and in the safety material that was being used.

A link to an article titled FAA Advocacy Meeting January 15 and 16 was in the post. Several important things were mentioned regarding large plane registration (aircraft above 55lbs) and foreign contestants, but for me the most interesting was a discussion on the 400ft “limit”.

We raised multiple questions around the guidelines pilots must agree to during the registration process, such as the requirement to stay below 400 feet.  The FAA acknowledged that AMA members should continue to follow AMA’s community-based safety code.  We also discussed and the FAA confirmed that the language on the FAA registration site is a guideline, not regulation.  This guideline is not directed at the AMA community but rather, it is a simplified set of safety guidelines geared to the general public.

We specifically addressed the 400 foot altitude limitation and explained how under appropriate circumstances some modeling activity necessarily occurs above 400’ and other activity occurs at altitude to protect modelers and spectators on the ground. The FAA understands that this community flies higher than the guideline and acknowledged that AMA pilots can abide by their own safety code which is proven to provide safe aeromodelling operations.

Emphasis mine.

One of the responses many people had was why the FAA would come after some model sailplane pilot with fines and such. Mine, along with many others, is that the FAA isn’t so much the issue, it is that other law enforcement agencies will see a bullet point saying no flying above 400ft and then blanketly apply it.

These comments on an AMA blog won’t hold much weight in court. Pilots will have to rely on the fact that there is no real rules specified here. What I mean is, there are no FARS, Federal Aviation Regulations, covering sUAS in the manner that the FAA has advertised on their website. If we go back to my previous post you’ll see a link to the special rule regarding model aircraft. This rule only mentions an altitude ceiling within five miles of an airport. This is the only written, and from what I understand, enforceable rule regarding operating altitude. While given what the FAA has already made pilots agree to on their website registration form it concerns me that when a FAR is written to cover sUAS, expected later this year, we may be having this same headache again!

So what does all this mean? I’m not sure. As stated previously, I’m going rouge and being an outlaw. I will fly my gliders to the max of my visual and piloting abilities. I can’t recommend any other pilots do one thing or the other, but I don’t see why they should feel that there is a hard operating ceiling at 400ft.

Now go out and fly your gliders!

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I'm a software engineer. Look into the about page for more information about me.

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