UPDATE: March, 2012 – FAA Bill Issues Protection for Radio Control Model Aviation

News of pending regulations from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on the hobby of radio-controlled (rc) modeling may leave you with questions about exactly what is happening as well as where you could find more information.

While we won’t know the details included in the FAA’s Notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) until its release in early 2011, we have been able to map out what we do know, how it applies to our hobby, and how you can become an active participant in the process. Our goal is to help you better understand the issues at hand and to prepare you for what may lie ahead.

Some of the topics we cover are:

What are the issues at hand back to top

As military and civilian aviation technology has advanced, so too has technology in rc modeling. Both worlds have been expanding and this is causing us to move closer together and in some ways overlap. One of many questions being raised is at what point does our hobby stop becoming a hobby and instead become what the FAA classifies a an Unmanned Aircraft System?

It’s a good question and a question whose overarching concern is public safety. The FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Program Office (UAPO) states the following about UAS:

"Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and serve diverse purposes. They may have a wingspan as large as a Boeing 737 or smaller than a radio-controlled model airplane. A pilot on the ground is always in charge of UAS operations.

Until recently, UASs mainly supported military and security operations, but that is rapidly changing. Unmanned aircraft promise new ways to increase efficiency, save money, enhance safety and even save lives. Interest is growing in a broad range of uses such as aerial photography, surveying land and crops, monitoring forest fires and environmental conditions, and protecting borders and ports against intruders."

Additionally, the FAA states that their primary concern is safety:

"The FAA’s main concern about UAS operations in the National Airspace System (NAS) is safety. The NAS encompasses an average of more than 100,000 aviation operations per day, including commercial air traffic, cargo operations, and business jets. Additionally, there are more than 238,000 general aviation aircraft in the system at any time. It is critical that aircraft do not endanger other users of the NAS or compromise the safety of persons or property on the ground."

It’s important to note that the FAA does recognize our hobby, our community, and our vested interests. They also understand how much rc modeling technologies have expanded and how they are now a part of a growing UAS market. Which is why model aircraft are directly involved in the pending rulings of the FAA:

"The FAA recognizes that people and companies other than modelers might be flying UAS with the mistaken understanding they are legally operating under the authority of AC 91–57. AC 91–57 only applies to modelers and specifically excludes its use by persons or companies for business purposes."

Are there current regulations in place for radio-controlled (rc) models? back to top

According to an FAA statement, they do not have regulations in place for small radio-controlled or gas-powered airplanes operated for sport and recreation. They do, however, offer guidance for operating our model aircraft in the Model Aircraft Operating Standards Advisory Circular (AC) 91-57 which encourages voluntary compliance with proposed safety standards and leaves safety in the hands of the individual.

Have any new restrictions been put on radio-controlled (rc) aircraft? back to top

As of March 2011, the answer is no. However, the FAA has issued an Unmanned Aircraft Operations Notice whose purpose is to, "…provide[s] information and interim guidance on air traffic policies and prescribes procedures for the planning, coordination, and services involving the operation of unmanned aircraft systems in the national air space (NAS)."

This notice primarily addresses military and civilian operations of UAS because, again, there are currently very few federal standards surrounding the operations of model aircraft.

What is a Notice of proposed rulemaking? back to top

An NPRM is a formal notice to the public by a government agency stating that they intend to create new regulations or modify already existing regulations. When an NPRM is made public, the information contained are not rules being put into place but descriptions of the subjects and issues involved. NPRMs are an important part of United States administrative law, which facilitates government by creating a process of taking of public comment.

What can i do once the notice of proposed rulemaking is made public? back to top

Once the NPRM is published in the Federal Register typically you will have 60 days for public comment and an additional 30 days for reply comments. NPRMs are often preceded by a notice of inquiry (NOI) where comments are invited, but no rules have yet been proposed.

Comments received in this period allow the agency to better prepare the NPRM by making more-informed decisions on proposals. An NPRM may be followed by a further notice of proposed rulemaking (FNPRM), if the comments from the initial NPRM drastically change the proposal to the point where further comment is required. Rules are finalized when a report and order (R&O) is issued.


  1. Susan Phillips
    May 15, 2012

    I know someone in Chesapeake Bay Radio Control club who tells me he is going blind from optic eye disease.

    Are their any regs regarding eye sight and safety?

  2. Chatter
    May 19, 2012

    Currently there are no specific vision regulations in place for any commercial UAS or radio control flight use in the United States. But with all things aviation, safety is paramount and a key component of that is the see-and-avoid method. For radio control a crucial component of this entire Notice of Proposed Rule Making will be our ability to fly safely using line-of-sight. Once we (r/c) remove the line-of-sight component we begin to walk a fine line between our hobby and commercial UAS.