June 24, 2014, 2:37 AM — The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Monday interpreted existing rules to prohibit hobbyists' model aircraft from flying within 5 miles (8 kilometers) of an airport without clearance from the airport or ground control.
The guidance follows incidents involving the reckless use of unmanned model aircraft near airports and involving large crowds of people, FAA said. The U.S. National Park Service last week banned the operation of drones amidst concerns about the safety of people and harassment of animals.
Model aircraft hobbyists have to ensure that the aircraft is visible to the operator at all times without viewing aids like binoculars, and is not used for commercial purposes, the FAA said. The aircraft should not weigh more than 55 pounds (25 kilograms), including the weight of the payload and fuel, unless it's certified by an aeromodeling community-based organization
The FAA also defended its right to set rules in a notice that went into effect on Monday and is open for public comment for 30 days.
The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 established in section 336 a special rule for model aircraft, which prohibited the agency from making any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft, if the aircraft meets statutory requirements such as the maximum weight and its use exclusively for hobby or recreational purposes.
The FAA holds the rulemaking prohibition does not apply in the case of general rules that it may issue or modify that apply to all aircraft, such as rules addressing the use of airspace for safety or security reasons. "The statute does not require FAA to exempt model aircraft from those rules because those rules are not specifically regarding model aircraft," it said in the notice.
If a model aircraft operator endangers the safety of the National Airspace System, the FAA has the authority to take enforcement action against the operators for the safety violations, FAA said.
Rules addressing operation of the aircraft may, for example, include prohibitions on careless or reckless operation and dropping objects so as to create a hazard to persons or property.
The agency also interpreted existing statutes to rule out the use of hobbyist and recreational model aircraft for purposes such as photographing a property or event to sell the photos to someone else, or delivering packages to people for a fee.