The American Hobby That Leads to STEM and Aviation Careers, Model Airplanes, Is Under Attack. Protect Section 336 of the FAA Reauthorization Act
Many people today who are in STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, Math) and aviation careers started out as recreational or hobby flyers of model aircraft. Many of these same professionals still continue to fly their model aircraft too as an enjoyable hobby, in addition to their professional capacities. This article explains the importance of Section 336 of the FAA Act, informs the reader of the efforts being made to repeal Section 336, and why we need to preserve Section 336 and call our representatives in Congress now!
The reason the model aircraft tradition has been so fun and accessible for children and adults alike has been that no pilot’s license has been required by the government. This lack of pilot license regulation or technology mandates is called the Special Rule for Model Aircraft. It has been part of federal law passed by Congress for some time. The special rule for model aircraft is also know as Section 336.
Section 336 is a safe tradition that has been around for many decades It is now under attack by Silicon Valley and K Street Lobbyists.
Google is Lobbying Congress For an Airspace “Land Rush” Premised on Kicking Out the Natives – By Over-Regulating Model Aircraft
That’s right- some, including subsidiaries of Google, are petitioning Congress to eliminate the Special Rule for Model Aircraft – also known as Section 336. In my opinion, it’s rent-seeking behavior looking for special treatment and special access to the public’s skies, by forcing unreasonable and unnecessary regulations like pilots licenses and technology mandates onto hundreds of thousands of safe, proven model aviators. Put succinctly, it’s a land rush premised on kicking out the natives.
The AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics) is the national organization of over 80 years that has sought to educate and protect hobbyists. If you are a member, use this link to let your United States Senators and Congressional Representatives know that you want to preserve Section 336 http://www.oneclickpolitics.com/messages/edit?promo_id=4225
If you are not an AMA member (and even if you are), please consider writing and calling your United States Senators and Congressional Representatives to let them know that you want to preserve Section 336. Act now, or it will be too late.
Act Now to Preserve Section 336 and Model Aircraft in Your Own Way
Here are my own personal efforts, written to Senator Richard Durbin, Senator Tammy Duckworth, and Representative Peter Roskam:
I am writing to you to preserve Section 336 of the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, also known as the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, in the upcoming reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The Special Rule for Model Aircraft allows hundreds of thousands of aviation model hobbyists like myself to fly within the safety programming of a community-based organization (CBO), essentially providing an alternative for some hobbyists that is equitable – if not more rigid – than what the FAA offers to those who do not operate within a CBO. I fly in St. Charles, IL with the Fox Valley Aero Club and am a member of the AMA.
As the founding attorney of a nationally-known commercial UAS/ “drone” law practice, I have also gotten to know many people across the country – and represented more than 100 drone companies and individuals in FAA matters – many of whom first benefitted from Section 336 hobby flights of traditional radio-controlled aircraft and drones and later became engineers, A&P mechanics, professional manned aircraft pilots and commercial drone pilots. This includes people from some of the largest companies in America, as well as smaller companies in the cinematography, real estate, and newsgathering industries.
Put another way, Section 336 is the “feeder school” for a host of academic and commercial careers in science, technology, and aviation. And it is under attack by big Silicon Valley money including Google (Alphabet company’s subsidiaries Project Wing and X) though the Commercial Drone Alliance who seeks to repeal Section 336 for their air-robot dreams.
From what I have read, and in my opinion, the efforts by the Commercial Drone Alliance and others who seek to repeal Section 336 are engaging in classic “rent-seeking” behavior; that is, they seek to obtain special access to our public skies in ways that are only possible by reducing the rights of hundreds of thousands of us who currently benefit from Section 336. By lobbying to repeal Section 336, they appear to be seeking to impose regulatory burdens such as pilots licenses and technology requirements on the hundreds of thousands of Americans who currently fly under Section 336 in order to fulfill their dreams of autonomous flying unmanned, long endurance flights, in our nation’s airspace.
You may have learned of the very tragic Uber accident which recently killed a pedestrian walking her bicycle. This Uber vehicle supposedly had superior autonomous technology that was supposed to be better than the average driver at avoiding other vehicles and people! Obviously, this was not the case and the public has been put at risk. Similarly, Google and others who currently seek to repeal Section 336 wish to take away the current status quo of hundreds of thousands of Section 336 hobbyists, for their plans which are uncertain and not yet proven to be safe. We should not take away the current rights and privileges embodied in Section 336 for those companies including Google who have not proven their own plans are safe, and a net benefit to the public.
In my opinion and that of others, autonomous (unmanned) flying, especially for flights going far beyond what the human eye can see, should be done with aircraft and aircraft systems that can truly integrate with our existing airspace systems and users. What do I mean by truly integrating into the existing airspace systems and users? For example, when jet engine powered aircraft entered into use, general aviation aircraft and pilots were not required to have new licenses or to put on new technology such as radar on their aircraft. It was jet aircraft that was required to integrate, by having special pilots licenses for jet engine powered aircraft. Not the other way around. If Google and others who currently wish to repeal Section 336 for their dream of autonomous flights without humans aboard, they should be required to have special certificated aircraft and systems that they must pay for. Taxpayers and the current beneficiaries of Section 336 should not be burdened, just as the general aviation industry was not burdened when jet aircraft came into being.
Model aviation enthusiasts have been the cradle of innovation for both the manned and unmanned communities for decades. The AMA community (Academy of Model Aeronautics, the 83 year old organization with an impeccable safety record) has helped to develop and advance aircraft platforms since the 1930s. Even today, as technology continues to improve, modelers are dreaming up new ways to apply and use aircraft technology every day. Eliminating the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (Section 336) would be a devastating blow to innovation.
Lastly, allowing CBOs (Community Based Organizations) like AMA to manage our own communities frees up scarce FAA resources, which in turn helps keep our skies safe for everyone. Eliminating the Special Rule for Model Aircraft will exacerbate the demand on the agency’s resources, which may have negative implications for the safety of our skies.
As a long-time modeler, I urge you to preserve Section 336, the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, in the upcoming FAA reauthorization bill and protect this long-standing hobby. Companies like Google should “pay the freight” and prove to the FAA they can operate autonomously safely, without putting the rest of us at risk and without imposing new regulatory burdens and revoking our airspace rights as members of the public.
Finally, I encourage you to please consider including express federal preemption in the new FAA Act to stop the plethora of local and state drone laws that are uninformed and intrusive on the FAA’s authority to govern our national aviation system.
Please feel free to telephone me or have me come to your office to discuss.
Letter to US Senator Richard Durbin
Letter toA Sen Durbin in Support of Section 336 of FAA Act 4-16-
Letter to US Senator Tammy Duckworth
Letter to Sen Duckworth in Support of Section 336 of FAA Act 4-
Letter to Congressman Peter Roskam
Letter to Rep Roskam in Support of Section 336 of FAA Act 4-16-
NOTE: Please consider attending the June 21-23 Amazing Windy City Warbirds Event at the RC Club Fox Valley Aero in St. Charles, IL. Its an amazing all day event with many spectators, air show announcer, and a chance to speak with giant scale pilots about their professions and RC experience.