In Brief: FAA Claims Jurisdiction Over FPV RC Flying

By Terry Dunn

The FAA takes a particularly harsh stance on First Person View (FPV) flying.

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 included verbiage which prevents the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from imposing any new rules on model aircraft. This exemption, which is defined in Section 336 of the law, applies so long as a short list of requirements is met by the operator and model. Like so many legislative documents, the five exemption requirements leave numerous grey areas. Thus, the FAA recently issued its interpretation of the exemption and how the agency intends to define model aviation going forward. The FAA takes a particularly harsh stance on First Person View (FPV) flying. The document states in no uncertain terms the operator must be able to see the model aircraft in direct line of sight with nothing more powerful than corrective lenses. Any other optical aids (specifically FPV devices) negate the exemption and put you under the FAA’s law enforcement jurisdiction.

Other views expressed by the FAA interpretation are less direct, but have equally far-reaching effects to RC aviators--even those who don’t participate in FPV. The “community-based organization” mentioned in the law is the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), whose lobbying efforts were largely responsible for the exemption’s presence. The AMA quickly issued a response to the FAA. Spoiler: they aren’t happy. This could be a critical “David and Goliath”-like standoff regarding the future of RC flying. If you have any interest in this hobby, don’t be passive. I suspect that the AMA will soon provide suggestions for where/how to focus efforts against the FAA interpretation.