This morning my inbox exploded with articles about the FAA's recent Interpretation of the rules for R/C flying. Specifically with their consideration for "First Person View" (FPV) flying. (Flying by reference to a video transmitter on board the model aircraft.)
Summary: According to the FAA, FPV flying in the US is not legal, even with a spotter.
Details: [14 CFR Part 91 , Docket No. FAA-2014-0396, "Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft"]:
Under the criteria above, visual line of sight would mean that the operator has an unobstructed view of the model aircraft. To ensure that the operator has the best view of the aircraft, the statutory requirement would preclude the use of vision-enhancing devices, such as binoculars, night vision goggles, powered vision magnifying devices, and goggles designed to provide a “first-person view” from the model.
Such devices would limit the operator’s field of view thereby reducing his or her ability to see-and-avoid other aircraft in the area. Additionally, some of these devices could dramatically increase the distance at which an operator could see the aircraft, rendering the statutory visual-line-of-sight requirements meaningless. Finally, based on the plain language of the statute, which says that aircraft must be “flown within the visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft,” an operator could not rely on another person to satisfy the visual line of sight requirement. [...] While the statute would not preclude using an observer to augment the safety of the operation, the operator must be able to view the aircraft at all times.
On the surface, that seems rational. Where it falls apart is that FPV flying doesn't necessarily have to be done in locations or at altitude where such oversight makes any sense at all. I am 100% on board with the idea of preventing people from operating R/C aircraft without LOS at high altitudes in places where I might be in my Cessna.
But does that mean it should be illegal to wear FPV goggles and fly around a field, away from any airports, at < 200 feet elevation? If my Cessna is ever there, it's because I'm doing an emergency landing. Randomly encountering an R/C aircraft (or bird, or baseball) is fine with me.
Does that mean it should be illegal to fly aircraft using FPV equipment under tree canopies (where there can't possibly be other aircraft?)
The FAA rule is draconian. FPV flying is becoming not just a hobby, but a sport. And by passing draconian rules like this the FAA is taking rational conversation off the table and ensuring that thousands of people will just disregard them and break the rules.
And that puts me at greater risk. Thanks a lot.
FAA , if you are listening - let's have a conversation about this. Blanket restrictions on very popular, widespread, and largely safe activities are not a good idea. Let's discuss where FPV flying does and doesn't make sense. Let's discuss where interference with aviation operations may and may not happen. And let's discuss how to properly educate the FAA, pilot, and R/C communities about each other's activities, so we can coexist in a safe and harmonious way.
Today it's a battleground, and each side is largely misrepresented by misinformation to the others. This isn't the way forward.