No Fly Zone? New FAA Rule Could Affect Fairfax Model Plane Group
FAA in the process of drafting a new rule that could affect model aircraft enthusiasts in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.
Around the country, thousands of remote controlled model aircraft enthusiasts are awaiting word from the Federal Aviation Administration on pending regulations regarding small, unmanned aircraft systems that could greatly impact their multimillion-dollar industry.
The FAA cannot reveal the exact language in the new rule for Unmanned Aircraft Systems until a notice of proposed rulemaking is released. That release is not expected until late summer, according to the Academy of Model Aeronautics. For now, members of the Fairfax County-based Northern Virginia Radio Control model aircraft club and its members are sitting and waiting.
“Right now the FAA is in their closed-door part of the process and we don’t know exactly what they’re going to propose,” said Ken Bassett, a chief instructor for the Northern Virginia Radio Control Model Aircraft Club, who flies model aircraft and gives flight lessons at Poplar Ford Park in Chantilly. The field is an AMA sanctioned flying area and it’s supported by the Fairfax County government. “We’re all waiting with bated breath to see what our input leads to.”
Currently the FAA guidelines for UAS are advisory, created by a rule established in 1981 that advises unmanned aircraft to stay below 400 -feet and away from active airports and outside of the Washington, D.C. Flight Restricted Zone. The FRZ encompasses approximately a 15-mile radius surrounding Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, where not even the most innocent of remote controlled aircraft activity is allowed.
The FAA has established this FRZ as the Washington, D.C. Special Flight Rules Area, deeming it National Defense Airspace, and the federal government has the authority to pursue criminal charges against anyone in violation of that airspace.
“Are model airplanes a problem in the D.C. area? I think the most important thing to note is that they’re actually prohibited within the FRZ, inside the beltway as a general statement model airplanes aren’t allowed to fly,” said Rich Hansen, an Arizona-based AMA Government and Regulatory Affairs representative. “We’ve argued this and the FAA has repeatedly said no. The kid that goes out to a Kmart and buys one of these toy airplanes, goes in his backyard and flies that thing, he’s in violation (within the restricted area).”
UAS’s range in size from small, radio -controlled airplanes to as large as a Boeing 737, but are always manned by a pilot on the ground. Some of these model aircrafts can be autonomously controlled, meaning the pilot on the ground can view the plane from the cockpit while it is in the air, without actually being in the plane.
“We’re working on a small, unmanned aircraft systems proposed rule that we hope to get out within a couple of months,” said FAA spokesman Les Dorr. “The public, including the modelers who fly either low-end or high-end aircraft will have the opportunity to comment on the rule.”
The United States NAS is one of the most arduous in the world, averaging over 100,000 commercial and private passenger and cargo flights per day. According to the FAA, unmanned aircraft interest has risen among universities, companies and government organizations to increase their efficiency and save money for aerial photography, land and crop surveillance, monitoring environmental conditions and protecting against intruders.
AMA, the world’s largest model aviation association, charters over 2,500 model airplane clubs across the nation, and has been the most active national body for model aviation prodding the FAA to make sure its new rule doesn’t greatly affect their rigidly self regulated member operations.
The AMA had representatives on the working groups that preceded the rulemaking process itself, but now they await the final decision like all other model aircraft enthusiasts throughout the nation.
“We are routinely shut down because we are close to Washington, D.C.,” Bassett said. “People that want to use our technology for bad purposes, they can do it, they’re not going to worry about whether the government says they can’t fly. Model airplanes operated by model airplane enthusiasts sanctioned by AMA, that’s not the problem.”