The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has released an interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft established by Congress in the FAA 2012 Modernization and Reform Act and called for comments thereon. As stated in the document’s summary, the FAA clarifies that model aircraft must satisfy the criteria in the Act to qualify as model aircraft and to be exempt from future FAA rulemaking action; if a model aircraft operator endangers the safety of the National Airspace System, the FAA has the authority to take enforcement action against those operators for those safety violations.
The FAA clarifies that model aircraft are “aircraft” within the meaning of the US Code (USC) and are only exempted from the FAA’s regulatory scope if they meet all five requirements set out in Section 336 USC, i.e.
- the aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use;
- the aircraft is operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization
- the aircraft is limited to not more than 55 pounds (i.e. maximum take-off weight according to the FAA) unless otherwise is certified through a design, construction, inspection, flight test, and operational safety program administered by a community-based organization
- the aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft
- when flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower with prior notice of the operation
Subsequently, the FAA interprets the elements necessary for a “model aircraft”, which are that (a) the aircraft must be used strictly for recreational purposes and (b) it must be flown within the visual line of sight (VOL) of the operator – no vision aids (binoculars, goggles etc.) or VOL of third persons are allowed.
Furthermore, the FAA suggests that it has in any case enforcement authority concerning the safety of all airspace users and the protection of people and property on the ground.
You can find the FAA’s interpretation here.