Image: Flickr/Hans Age Martinsen
Drone hobbyists, prospective commercial drone operators, and even model aircraft old-schoolers are looking at Monday’s Federal Aviation Administration action, in which the FAA tries to greatly restrict hobby drone flights and asserts its authority to ban commercial drones, as a declaration of war on the hobby they love.
How bad is it? The nation’s largest model aircraft group, which has existed longer than the FAA itself and has partnered with the FAA on proposed drone rules, just blasted the agency’s guidance, saying it threatens the entire hobby, from quadcopters to WWI replica biplanes.
The Academy of Model Aeronautics, itself disliked by many newer drone pilots, absolutely slammed the FAA in a press release issued last night. That’s no small thing: The AMA has more than 165,000 members in all states and has more than 2,400 flying clubs around the country.
The guidance “threatens to destroy a wholesome and enriching activity enjoyed by a vast cross-section of our society,” the AMA said.
“AMA cannot support this rule,” the group’s executive director, Dave Mathewson, said in a statement. “It is at best ill-conceived and at worst intentionally punitive and retaliatory. The Academy strongly requests the FAA reconsider this action. The AMA will pursue all available recourse to dissuade enactment of this rule.”
A rallying cry being spread around Facebook today. Image: Sean Wendland
That’s an incredible about-face for a group that, mere months ago, signed a “memorandum of understanding” with the agency to cooperate on any future drone legislation.
“The AMA and the FAA intend to work together by openly communicating any questions and needs as they arise,” that document stated. It also says that the FAA will “foster a positive and cooperative environment towards model aviation within the agency’s national, regional, district, and local offices.”
The AMA was seen by many in the hobby as being overly cooperative with the FAA and has been slammed by some who fly using newer technologies for often siding with the agency and for perceived biases against people who fly quadcopters and hexacopters as opposed to old school fixed-wing model aircraft.
"AMA finally realized it got into bed with the wrong partner," Peter Sachs, a Connecticut-based drone lawyer, wrote about the AMA statement.
What gives? Well, the AMA hosts, and has hosted for decades, hundreds of model aircraft flying contests all around the country without incident. The FAA said in its latest guidance that those are now illegal as a “commercial use” of model aircraft.
Beyond that, the AMA is taking issue with the fact that the FAA is trying to take language intended to protect the hobby—a definition by Congress of aircraft that the agency could not regulate—and is using it to deem all unmanned aircraft uses that don’t strictly fall into that category as illegal.
“The FAA interpretive rule effectively negates Congress’ intentions, and is contrary to the law,” AMA president Bob Brown said.
Meanwhile, drone hobbyists have talked about organizing to push back against the FAA’s latest attempt to make rules without the public’s consent or consultation. Some have discussed and drafted letters to lawmakers asking them to oppose the new guidance (which, as I pointed out yesterday, is not a legally binding rule), while others have suggested that Monday was the beginning of the end of the hobby. Now, with the AMA turning on the FAA, those hoping to protect the hobby have a powerful ally.