Recently, the FAA more than doubled the airspace around Washington, D.C., that it considers a ‘no drone zone.’ In 2009, the FAA expressly prohibited model aircraft operations in the D.C. Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ), shutting down three AMA-chartered clubs and eliminating all model aircraft activity in the nation’s capital. The FAA has now extended this restriction to the Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) outside the FRZ where model aircraft have been flying without incident for years. Not only is D.C. restricted, but the FAA now contends that model aviation enthusiasts cannot fly in several Virginia and Maryland counties as well.
The FAA’s current action has caused an additional 14 AMA-chartered clubs in the D.C. metro area to shut down operations, despite our organization’s 80-year history of responsible flying. Our members consistently abide by federal and local policies and for decades have followed AMA’s comprehensive set of safety and privacy guidelines, which are constantly evolving to accommodate new technologies and new modeling disciplines.
The FAA justifies its most recent action by stating that model aircraft are by definition aircraft and therefore subject to existing FAA rules. That assertion is currently the subject of pending litigation and Congress has made clear that the FAA should have a hands off approach to model aircraft that are operating within the safety guidelines of a community-based organization such as AMA as provided in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.
AMA understands that these restrictions are part of the security measures put in place to protect the U.S. Capitol and the Academy supports the government’s efforts to protect our national interests. However, model airplanes and model aircraft enthusiasts do not pose a threat to national security but rather assist in the counterterrorism effort by serving as a community of eyes and ears familiar with the operation of unmanned aircraft and watchful of aberrant behavior. In at least one case, a documented threat to the nation’s capital was thwarted as a result of suspicious UAS activity being reported by the aeromodeling community.
AMA and the AMA District IV Government Relations Committee is currently in talks with the FAA to find a solution that will allow our members to resume the enjoyment of their long-standing hobby in the impacted Virginia and Maryland counties. More broadly, AMA has been working closely with the FAA and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) on the Know Before You Fly campaign to educate newcomers to model aviation and drone technology. Education, not more regulation, is the key to enhancing safety.