RCAPA Rebuttal to the FAA’s Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft


Folks in the U.S. UAS community (which now including paper airplane aficionados too) were surprised and dismayed by the FAA’s “full special” interpretation for Model Aircraft. The community is completely flabbergasted by the lack of response from the regular gaggle of advocacy groups. UAS freedom(s) just took a major hit in the U.S. and folks are asking where the hell is the leadership? We are usually treated to quick responses (canned goods) heralding any announcement from the FAA (no matter how trivial or nonsensical they may be), as enlightened and a giant step in the right direction. We can guess who got the special dispensation/backroom deal neutering.

Shocked and awed –

The community is collectively wondering what’s up with the subdued response? Where is the mobilization of the membership(s)? Adding to the dismay is the notion that this edict could have possibly caught advocacy groups off guard? It has many feeling like we just suffered a regulatory tsunami without warning and no disaster plan!

* To everyone’s integration credit… The FAA did state repeatedly that the hobby would look the same after regulation was announced. However, in this instance it would appear that reality and the FAA have parted company again.

Trust no one!

To the new breed of experts this maxim must sound a tad cynical, but the only folks who are ever optimistic about onerous Federal regulation are high dollar attorneys, consultants and DOD advocates. Even amongst the stalwart set, optimism is usually only exhibited on or around check writing time. The bigger the check, the better the possibilities. I’ve seen smart people get taken in by this hubris hook, line and sinker thinking they too will be getting a spot at the government-contracting trough.

Here’s a heads up to the turnip truck riders, et al…This regulatory game by relative comparison of tactics gives the Times Square 3 Card Monty dealer (don’t get me started on the “Shell” oil game), an air of respectability afforded to any legitimate and concerned businessmen. Harder for the uninitiated to spot the high dollar con, as the regulatory game is gussied up in all of the trappings afforded by PR firms and hefty campaign contributions. Readers of the sUAS News know that I’ve been on about this for years… However, the message can no longer be sluffed off as cantankerous conjecture, but solid content printed on the pages of the New Yorker Magazine and Wall Street Journal.

Man, it’d be great, but we can’t single out anyone from the FAA as a bad person, and that’d make the journalism thing a snap… We could just issue a statement that says something casual like look for the big red nose and oversized shoes. But alas, what we have here is something more obscure, a huge over budgeted dysfunctional machine with it parts and pieces displaying an apparent lack of understanding or care for the future of aviation. Plenty of loud braggadocio about the charge of safety of folks in the air and on the ground while the flying circus has been in full swing for years. That said,the FAA Administrator is ultimately responsible as he is the gentleman currently wearing the H.M.S. Titanic Captain’s hat.

Moles everywhere –

Unfortunately, many people have come and gone at the FAA over the years and during the course of the UAS airspace integration debacle that it is hard to know who’s who in the zoo. The sad part is that they tried in earnest to weed out anyone who had a passion for aviation and new technology. They had one guy over there (Generalissimo Junket) that was pretty successful in getting rid of or marginalizing anyone that had the guts to show conviction. The new folks from what I hear are operating in the dark, and that’s not just the dark about UAS, but the regulatory side of the house too. Pleanty of the same old Wasp, Raven, Puma and sometimes ScanEagle roadshow.

Winners and losers –

This regulatory game is almost sewed up, and most of the drone experts don’t have a clue how bad it is going to get. The FAA has throttled way back on Global harmonization and there is widening chasm between common sense regulation and trying to sweep the political dysfunction elephant under the rug. Oh, rest assured they are going to shotgun that Mulligan stew NPRM and when it comes out all there will be left to say is those DoD guys really did play me for a rube.

No hand wringing here!

The Business UAS Advocates over at RCAPA have added a proactive piece to their statement. Some cut and paste boilerplate that you should start sending to everyone including your Aunt Connie. It is rumored that they had to come up with it on their own, as they couldn’t afford to drop $300,000 on consultants.

Cut, paste, print, sign and send. The effort invested is in your future.


We at RCAPA have always espoused the notion that the Remote Control hobby was something that was a way of life that many of us had grown up with.  The freedom to associate with, and recreate with whom we chose in a safe and wholesome way.  It is truly sad to see yet another example of the government mistakenly destroying another positive pastime that generations have enjoyed safely.

During the course of the global airspace integration effort, RCAPA has taken every opportunity to remind the FAA of the many unaffiliated Remote Control hobbyist. Those individuals, heretofore, were able to fly safely in the National Airspace System (NAS) utilizing a natural resource that belongs to citizens of this country.  A natural resource that citizens have had reasonable access to for many years.  Over the nine-year timeframe that RCAPA has been in existence, we have asked to see the data that would warrant such heavy-handed regulation.  Up to this point no data, either independently reviewed or otherwise,  has been produced by the FAA.

We have always contended that the realm of Remote Control is beyond the comprehension and expertise of the FAA regulator. The Interpretation of the law we believe serves well to illustrate this truth.  The interpretation contradicts repeated past assurances by FAA representatives that the hobby would be the same. The interpretation in its entirety is troubling; however, the following needs further consideration and rebuttal not by just the hobby community, but family and friends that have shared this wholesome and inclusive hobby.

It appears that the FAA is trying again to punish a community that is educated and operating safely, lumping them in with the uneducated scofflaws operating outside of community practices.

The ban on FPV –

The current standard is to fly with a “buddy box” which has another pilot with his eyes on the model at all times at the controls. Again, here is another example of the FAA not exercising due diligence before acting.

The hard line on the definition of “recreation” –

Any exchange of compensation under the pretense of the hobby is forbidden. The tradition of model shows with prizes, sponsorships or other forms of compensation are, after 70 plus years over.  Again, another ill-conceived blanket decree that will hinder if not destroy national and regional gatherings. The FAA on their webpage encourages flyers to get training, but the new interpretation of the law forbids the trainer from getting paid.  Poor execution from a regulator whose charge should have afforded them the understanding to know better.

Permission to fly within 5 miles of an airport –

This idea was first proposed by Air Traffic Organization (ATO) during the first small unmanned aircraft system agency regulatory committee (sUAS ARC) and was opposed by those considering the RC hobbyist as well as the UAS end-user. What type of permission is needed? Who is it obtained from?  Permission from every charted airport, heliport, seaplane port, balloon and glider port leaves very little room for the estimated 500,000 unaffiliated hobbyists in the U.S. to enjoy their pastime. Why should safe operators be penalized for what is a poor job educating the public, and non hobbyists about existing laws and lack of enforcement?

The notion that the FAA has always regulated everything that flies –

Their own documentation contradicts this notion, and no one can be expected to believe that the burden it places on airport managers and towers will make the NAS a safer place.

Therefore, we encourage you to either use all or part of what is provided to write the FAA and your elected Federal representation asking to suspend the interpretation until such time as data is gathered and time to complete the same due diligence required to make good rules and laws.


RE: Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft

[Docket No. FAA-2014-0396]

Dear Representative

This correspondence is in regards to the Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft made by the FAA. As a member of the Remote Control modeling community and my knowledge of this safe hobby, I must protest the FAA’s uneducated and heavy-handed interpretation of the law put forth by Congress. The community believes that the FAA did not exercise due diligence in gathering the (any) scientific data that would warrant such harsh restrictions on what for the last 70 + years has proven to be a safe past time.

We would appreciate whatever assistance you and your office could provide on this matter. I await your reply.


(Your name)

(Your address and telephone number)


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Patrick Egan
Editor in Field, sUAS News Americas Desk | Patrick Egan is the editor of the Americas Desk at sUAS News and host and Executive Producer of the sUAS News Podcast Series, Drone TV and the Small Unmanned Systems Business Exposition. Experience in the field includes assignments with the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Battle Lab investigating solutions on future warfare research projects. Instructor for LTA (Lighter Than Air) ISR systems deployment teams for an OSD, U.S. Special Operations Command, Special Surveillance Project. Built and operated commercial RPA prior to 2007 FAA policy clarification. On the airspace integration side, he serves as director of special programs for the RCAPA (Remote Control Aerial Photography Association).