FAA rulings on model aircraft stifle development of new technologies, think tank claims

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Federal Aviation Administration rules governing model aircraft are too restrictive and would stifle the use of new, innovative technologies, a Washington, D.C.-based technology think tank contends.

In a letter (pdf) to the FAA's Regulations Division, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation states that the administration's Special Rule for Model Aircraft is too narrowly defined and would limit the use and development of certain technologies.

One of the technologies in question is first person view, or FPV, goggles, that allow the operator to control the model aircraft from the vehicle's perspective via onboard cameras. Additionally, the ITIF notes that FAA rules limit certain technologies for non-commercial use of unmanned aircraft or drones.

By creating an arbitrary distinction, the letter noted that the agency would limit innovation and the economic potential of drone technologies.

"The FAA should give hobbyists and inventors room to thrive and not limit them with overbearing restrictions," the letter states.

The FAA recently published an interpretation in the Federal Register of the special rules for model aircraft in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. The agency said it can take enforcement measures against any model aircraft operator who endangers other airspace users or people on the ground.

The ITIF suggests that the FAA use bottom-up community guidelines, rather than top-down regulations for model aircraft. This would create more flexible rules for working with model aircraft users and groups as their community guidelines already meet many of the safety concerns that the FAA seeks to regulate, the think tank contends.

Additionally, the letter notes that the FAA's current interpretation of rules would unnecessarily restrict the growing use of FPV controlled aircraft. But the FAA says that operators must have visual line of sight—not camera-based imagery to control an aircraft. This prevents users from using new FPV technology, unless they have a separate "spotter" to visually keep track of the aircraft, the ITIF says.

Placing such restrictions on emerging technologies is also outside of the original intent of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which states that the FAA cannot promulgate "any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft" if it sticks to statutory requirements, the letter states. At least one major model aircraft hobby group agrees and has said it will fight the FAA rules.

The ITIF also suggested that the FAA should embrace the concept of hobbyists as innovators and that any adopted regulation promote a "culture of innovation."

For more:
- read the ITIF letter to the FAA (.pdf)

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