As the FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act, HR 658, makes its way through the US House of Representatives, it is provoking concern amongst model aircraft enthusiasts who fear that government regulators can’t make the difference between model aircraft and unmanned aircraft systems.
This story that appeared last week in the Sea Cost Online in Portsmouth, New Hampshire is typical:
Model airplane enthusiast Dennis Karoleski wants the federal government to take its hands off his hobby. The retired city resident, who has flown model aircraft since he was 6 years old, recently expressed concern about what he says is the Federal Aviation Administration’s push to enact regulations restricting model aircraft. Karoleski is a member of various model aviation clubs throughout the Seacoast in addition to the world’s largest model aviation association, the Academy of Model Aeronautics.
As a retired member of the U.S. Air Force who was formerly stationed at Pease Air Force Base, Karoleski said his interest in model aircraft recently turned political when he learned of the FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act, HR 658, making its way through the House of Representatives.
HR 658 was sent to the House Committee on the Judiciary and is expected to return to the floor this week. In addition to funding and an effort to streamline programs, the legislation also calls for improvements to aviation safety.
According to FAA spokesman Jim Peters, model aircraft operators already have a list of standards they are asked to adhere to regarding how and where to operate the aircraft. Peter’s said a recent FAA fact sheet from 2010 on unmanned aircraft systems also provides background information on the current picture.
“In the United States alone, approximately 50 companies, universities and government organizations are developing and producing some 155 unmanned aircraft designs,” according to the memorandum. A section titled “Small Eyes in the Sky” includes a statement about FAA preparing a notice of proposed rule-making for small unmanned aircraft systems, according to Peters.
Regulators say they expect those systems to experience the greatest near-term growth in civil and commercial operations because of their versatility and relatively low initial cost and operating expenses. “The agency has received extensive public comment on small UAS, both from proponents who feel their size dictates minimal regulation and from groups concerned about hazards to piloted general aviation aircraft and the safety of persons or property on the ground,” according to the memo.
In April 2008, the FAA chartered an Aviation Rulemaking Committee to examine the operational and safety issues and make recommendations on how to proceed with regulating small UAS. The memo indicates the agency has received the ARC recommendations and is in the process of drafting a proposed rule.
Karoleski said the ARC recommendations related to safety improvements, if enacted, will have a major impact on model aviation enthusiasts. He said he believes the subject became popular at the federal level due to the recent publicity about commercial interests that want their own airspace where they can fly their robotic aircraft.
“They plan for them to be used for surveillance, photo mapping and other commercial uses,” he said. “Evidently, members of our own government can’t tell the difference between our radio control planes that we fly within eyesight and the commercial versions that fly automatically but out of sight of the operator and in the same airspace shared with manned aircraft.”
Karoleski said he is also hoping to promote awareness to people who are not familiar with the hobby. Unlike robotic aircraft used by commercial businesses, Karoleski said the type of model airplanes typically flown must be kept close enough to see to be controlled. “We fly our models by eye and are well aware of manned aircraft and stay out of their way,” he said. While admitting some concern over the unmanned, robotic aircraft flying around in the same airspace, Karoleski said the type of model airplanes he flies pose no real threat to people or infrastructure.
Making matters worse, Karoleski said, is the multitude of YouTube videos showing model airplanes being flown close to skyscrapers in places like New York City. Karoleski said he understands concerns federal officials have in relation to homeland security threats.”Our radio models generally fly much lower, slower and are smaller, and pose no threat to manned aircraft,” he said.
As things stand now, Karoleski said a model flyer would be guilty of a federal felony for flying any model airplane outdoors, even a 10-inch foam balsa wood model, in a back yard within five miles of an airport when the president visits the area. The last time President Barack Obama visited Pease, Karoleski said the FAA closed all of the area between Boston and Portland to all model activity for the duration of his campaign visit. Further regulation would have the FAA closing an even larger area.
In an effort to prevent the changes, Karoleski said he hopes the FAA will exclude private use model aircraft from its proposed regulations in HR 658. Though an amendment protecting model aviation has not yet been introduced to HR 658, Karoleski said there is a push from his fellow hobbyists that has gained several supporters in the House.
“The government now feels model airplanes are a threat to national security and is proposing more restrictive laws to regulate the hobby that got thousands of kids interested in aviation and continues that function to this day,” he said.
With more than a dozen models of various types to call his own, Karoleski said any new restrictions will come as a detriment to the past and future of aeronautics as a hobby. “Not so long ago, those kids went on to fly the Atlantic like Lindbergh, become the pilots who fought and won World War II, became the astronauts who flew to the moon and are the pilots who fly the airliners we all fly on today,” Karoleski said.
Like his fellow enthusiasts, Karoleski is asking that those concerned with what he called the “latest government intrusion into a harmless and beneficial hobby” to write or call their elected officials. While Karoleski is advocating for a public push to prevent any major changes, Peters said there will be plenty of opportunity for the public to comment on the issue before anything is finalized.
“When FAA is considering changing a rule or regulation, it must go through a process called rule-making and publish the proposed changes in the Federal Register,” Peters said. “When that happens, interested parties have an opportunity to review and comment on the proposed changes. The comments that FAA receives on these proposed rule changes are considered by FAA before a final rule is published.” Peters said the FAA aims to publish a proposed rule sometime later this year.
Airplane enthusiast Dennis Karoleski of Portsmouth owns numerous model aircraft, which he enjoys flying with his club. Karoleski is fighting to preserve his right to fly without the FAA enacting strict regulations.
Source: Sea Cost Online Portsmouth, New Hampshire