By Petr Hejl
MultiRotor Pilot: There are many AMA members in the multirotor community, but also many newcomers to the hobby from other walks of life that may not be too familiar with what the AMA is, who it represents and what the benefits of having an AMA membership might be. Can you, please, introduce your organization to our readers?
Rich Hanson: The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) is a membership association with the dedicated mission of furthering, supporting and advocating on behalf of model aviation. The Academy has served the aero modeling community since its inception in 1936 and has grown to more than 164,000 members with nearly 2,400 chartered clubs located in all 50 states, the US territories and at US military installations around the world. The AMA organizes and oversees the modeling activity; sanctions local, national and international competition; and provides a safety structure as well as operational guidance for the safe and responsible operation of small unmanned aircraft (model aircraft) in the national airspace.
AMA’s safety program has achieved an exceptional safety record and has evolved over the past 77 years to include every facet of the hobby. The AMA is recognized as the nationwide, community-based organization for model aircraft and the Academy has a long history of advocating on behalf of the aero modeling community and works directly with the FAA and other government entities on regulatory issues affecting the hobby.
Amongst the many other member benefits, the AMA provides its members with $2.5 mil in personal liability coverage for the recreational and hobbyist use of small unmanned aircraft systems.
MRP: In the short time since their introduction, multirotor aircraft have become the fastest growing segment of RC hobby market and have shown the potential for changing not only the hobby itself, but also many other professions and industries. It seems fairly safe to predict that the “UAV” and multirotor aircraft operators will, in the foreseeable future, be the single biggest aircraft (manned or unmanned) operator group in the world. What does this change mean to the AMA and what is the organization doing to adapt to this “next generation” of RCs and RC enthusiasts?
RH: AMA recognizes the importance of this burgeoning technology and views it as a new and important adjunct to the modeling community. As aero modeling has evolved over the years, AMA has always adopted and supported new modeling disciplines and advancements in technology. Similarly, AMA is working to support the growing multirotor, first person view (FPV) and advanced flight systems activity. The Academy is working with individuals, advisory groups and representatives of the sUAS industry in assessing the needs of the community and in determining the best means of supporting this activity. As the technology and the needs of the community evolve, so shall AMA’s programing and the Academy’s approach to this aspect of the hobby.
MRP: As a Director of government relations with the AMA, you are involved in working with government agencies on behalf of the model aircraft enthusiasts. Can you, please, give us an idea about what this “involvement” means, what different authorities you work with and perhaps most importantly, the current state of AMA’s work with the FAA?
RH: AMA has added multirotor, first person view (FPV) and advanced flight systems platforms to its government relations portfolio and is currently advocating on behalf of all recreational sUAS enthusiasts before the US Congress and State legislatures. AMA has maintained a liaison with the FAA and other regulatory agencies such as the FCC and EPA for decades. The AMA was one of the initial members of FAA Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) and has worked with the agency on a weekly basis since the agency began its small unmanned aircraft rulemaking process in 2008.
AMA also interacts regularly with members of Congress and the leadership in key aviation and related oversight committees. AMA was integrally involved in establishing the aero modeling protections provided in the ‘special rule’ in Public Law 112-95 passed by Congress as the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.
Most recently the AMA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the FAA establishing a landmark agreement under which the AMA and the FAA will work cooperatively to ensure the recreational sUAS activity survives, thrives and continues to operate safely in the national airspace system.
MRP: There are already a few definitions of UAVs in current and proposed laws that are broad enough to include every RC aircraft. If there can even be a line drawn between the RCs and UAVs (“drones”), where do you think this line should be? What considerations are given to the classifications of “unmanned aircraft” in the proposed regulations you’ve encountered so far?
RH: The terminology currently in vogue regarding unmanned aircraft can be confusing and there is significant misunderstanding and misperception regarding various aspects of this technology. The official term established by the FAA for all unmanned aircraft is UAS, unmanned aircraft systems. This term is now established in law as part of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, PL 112-95. The term ‘model aircraft’ was also established in the public law as a subset of UAS and defined as an unmanned aircraft flown for recreational and hobby purposes and operated within the safety programing of a community-based organization.
The term ‘drone’ is a vernacular term popularized by the media and has been taken to mean anything from a small electric powered model to the 25 thousand pound Global Hawk. Unfortunately, both terms, ‘drone’ and ‘unmanned aircraft’ have appeared in proposed state level legislation. In 2013, Florida became the first state to define the word ‘drone’ in law as a “powered aerial vehicle that; does not carry a human operator; uses aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift, can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely; can be expendable or recoverable; and can carry a lethal or nonlethal payload. As you can see, this definition touches nearly every UAS platform currently operated whether it’s for recreational or commercial/public use.
Last year AMA tracked over 40 separate pieces of legislation aimed at restricting the use of UAS (Drones) and interacted with the legislature in nearly a dozen states where proposed legislation was particularly problematic.
MRP: What are some of the current regulations that RC hobbyists need to be aware when operating multirotor aircraft? What is the best way to stay up-to date and informed about any current and planned regulations concerning model aircraft, specifically multirotors?
RH: Currently there are no regulations that address the recreational or hobby use of UAS. FAA safety guidance for recreational sUAS can be found in Advisory Circular 91-57. To operate under the provisions of PL 112-95, you must operate within the safety programming of a nationwide community-based organization. The Academy of Model Aeronautics is such a community-based organization and is your best source for comprehensive programming regarding the safe and responsible operation of small unmanned aircraft systems (drones).
MRP: As much as multirotors raised a wave of enthusiasm about their possibilities, they also raised a wave of concerns amongst different interest groups and authorities. What are your concerns about this technology and how do you think they need to be addressed?
RH: AMA’s only concern regarding this new generation of sUAS is that many of the operators are uninformed regarding the best practices involved in operating these aircraft in a safe, responsible and community friendly manner. AMA is currently attempting to reach out to this community and is developing programming that will educate the sUAS user and provide a safe haven for those who wish to operate their aircraft in a safe and responsible manner.
MRP: There are quite a few mis-perceptions of multirotor aircraft amongst public and authorities (having a picture of a fully armed reaper “drone” in every media report or article about “UAVs” is a great example). What is the most frequent mis-perception you encounter? Any humorous ones you’d like to share?
RH: The most frequent and perhaps the more problematic misperception is the belief that the proliferation of this technology will result in thousands of UAS popping up in our neighborhoods, peeking in windows and invading our privacy. The truth of the matter is, though this capability exists, there’s no reason to believe this is any more likely to occur than what is already experienced with the myriad of existing electronic devices that allow you to surreptitiously observe and collect data on unsuspecting individuals. As new technologies have emerged, existing laws and constitutional provisions have proven sufficient to deter and address any misuse of the technology. When needed, laws should be written to address errant behavior, not to prohibit or restrict technology.
MRP: There are many operators doing all they can to be “ready” when the regulations are in place for commercial use of “UAVs”. What requirements for licensing multirotor operators and their aircraft for commercial use do you foresee in future regulations?
RH: It’s apparent that at some level of operation pilot licensure and aircraft registration will be required. The only uncertainty is where the threshold will be set. Unfortunately, current concerns over privacy and potential misuse of this technology will likely have the effect of setting the threshold much lower than it really needs to be. UAS pilots will need some level of aeronautical knowledge and will likely be required to carry credentials validating their skill and ability in the operation of their equipment. Unmanned aircraft will need to be registered, may be required to display specific markings, be a particular color(s) or be equipped with specific lighting. And, UAS operators will likely be required to attest to the airworthiness of their aircraft and maintain logs of both the pilot’s and aircraft’s flight experience.
MRP: We would like to include a few words about yourself, can you, please, write a little bit about yourself, your introduction to and history in the hobby?.
RH: I am an aviation professional with a 50-yr career in full-scale aviation and over 7,000 hours as a commercial pilot in airplanes and rotorcraft. I’m a Vietnam veteran, served 27 years in the US Army and Army Reserve components and have extensive experience in aviation management. I am also a graduate of the Army Aviation Safety Officer Course and have widespread experience in aviation safety.
I am a life-long modeler having started in the hobby as a youth with years of experience in free flight, control line and radio control model aircraft. I served for 15 years on the AMA Executive Council as the vice president for AMA District X (10), am an AMA Fellow and a member of the Model Aviation Hall of Fame. I have served as AMA’s government affairs representative since May, 2008.
We would like to thank Rich for taking the time to do this interview with us. The AMA is working hard every day advocating for everyone in the hobby but with the explosion of multirotor use, we appreciate all of the efforts that Rich and everyone else at AMA put into making this hobby better for everyone. – The Editors