I have finally submitted my comments to the FAA's NPRM for model aircraft. After reading the proposed regulations, reading the responses from various advocacy groups, and considering both sides I have submitted the following. If you would like to comment to the FAA as well, the link is here:
The deadline for comments is April 24th, 2015.
I am a computer engineer, r/c model enthusiast, private pilot, and aircraft owner. I am writing in response to the FAA's proposal to regulate small unmanned aircraft systems, including model aircraft.
I support the exemption of recreational model aircraft from the regulation of unmanned aircraft systems.
I understand the critical need to maintain separation of the increasing proliferation of radio control and hobbyist unmanned aircraft ("model aircraft") from other aircraft in the national airspace system. I do not agree that trying to interpret model aircraft as being subject to the existing aircraft regulations is a productive way to accomplish this. Model aircraft have more in common with the existing (exempt) classes of amateur rockets, balloons, and even ultralight human-occupied aircraft than they do with the aircraft regulated under 14 CFR.
I agree with the Academy of Model Aeronautics points about the proposed regulations regarding model aircraft. Specifically, with my concerns added after each one:
• Rigidly defining a requirement to operate within visual line of sight and that calls into question the use of a specific technology or equipment, namely first-person view (FPV) goggles. The language of the 2012 statute concerning "within visual line of sight" indicates how far away a person should fly the model aircraft, not what method of control may be used for the recreational experience. The proposal for commercial unmanned aircraft acknowledges that an observer (spotter) can be used to ensure airspace safety, just as the AMA's community-based safety guidelines do.
Many operations of "FPV" flying and equipment are done in close proximity to the ground, and in places where incursion with other aircraft in the national airspace system are impossible. The FAA should not preclude this fast growing activity, as it poses no threat to the nation's airspace or aircraft.
• Narrowly interpreting the words "hobby or recreational use." You should not regulate people who are flying model aircraft in connection with the hobby just because they receive payments. For decades, enthusiasts have participated in contests and competitions that have cash prizes, have been paid to instruct others on how to safely fly models, and have received compensation for aerobatic displays. These payments incidental to the hobby do not change the underlying recreational purpose of the activity or make the hobby any less safe, and regulating these activities would be highly disruptive to the hobby without any benefit.
The adoption of advertisement driven technology has also blurred the line between "for compensation" and not. Hobbyists naturally want to share their love and enthusiasm for their activities, and in doing so will use "free" computer platforms like online blogs, YouTube, social networks, and other "cloud" based services. Many of these services are supported by "monetizing" the content, that is to say- selling advertisement space capitalizing on the popularity of the user-driven content. The FAA's guidelines for what constitutes "commercial" or "for hire" operations does not take into account this corner-case, and as such has been interpreted multiple (inconsistent) ways.
I recommend that the FAA more broadly accept model aircraft operation by hobbyists as "non-commercial."
• Making model aircraft subject to airspace requirements such as air traffic control clearance, that have never been applicable in the past and with which it is impossible or impractical to comply. Congress indicated the maximum obligation, which is actually stricter than what the FAA's guidance has been for the past 34 years: notifying the airport when operating within five miles. That is the most that model aircraft hobbyists should have to do.
I support the FAA's efforts to keep the national airspace system safe for all operations within it. We need a clear, concise definition for what is and isn't allowed for hobby model aircraft. This may (by necessity) include airspace restrictions, airport proximity restrictions, and altitude restrictions. I encourage the administration to consider both sides carefully, and avoid blanket restrictions (on either side) that are difficult to interpret or comply with.
It's easy (and possibly convenient) to say "no operations within Class Bravo airspace." Consider that most model aircraft are operated within a few hundred feet of the ground, though, and much of the Class Bravo "Surface Area" actually becomes safely usable by the model aircraft community. I think there is a middle ground between what the AMA recommends and what the FAA has proposed, and I hope we are able to find it for the sake of both communities.
Thank you for providing us the opportunity for comment.
Kenneth C. Budd
AOPA Member # 03890068
EAA Member # 1132133
AMA Member # 1050433