Drones, the FAA, and the lawThere's been a lot of news about "drones" lately. Actually they're just multirotor model aircraft, but the press can spell "drone". Mostly about people flying them in unsafe or undesirable ways. The FAA has responded by issuing fines and proposing regulations, and there's been a lot of blog posts and comments and in general hot air about what the FAA can and can't do, and should or shouldn't do, and so forth. There's even been some judges ruling on things - and then being told they were also spouting hot air. And yes, I've been responsible for my share of most of the above.
Here, I want to try and provide light, not heat. The most recent act of congress dealing with model aircraft flight is the FAA Modernization and Reform act of 2012. I'm just going to quote the actual text of the act. I have cleaned up the formatting some but have not altered the text. I'm not going to comment on it or offer my interpretation - I'm sure we'll get a lot of people doing that. I'm just going to quote it so people who want to comment on it or offer interpretations have a chance to read it before doing so.
SEC. 336. SPECIAL RULE FOR MODEL AIRCRAFT.
(a) IN GENERAL.Notwithstanding any other provision of law relating to the incorporation of unmanned aircraft systems into Federal Aviation Administration plans and policies, including this subtitle, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft, if—
- the aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use;
- the aircraft is operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization;
- the aircraft is limited to not more than 55 pounds unless otherwise certified through a design, construction, inspection, flight test, and operational safety program administered by a community-based organization;
- the aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft; and
- when flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport) with prior notice of the operation (model aircraft operators flying from a permanent location within 5 miles of an airport should establish a mutually-agreed upon operating procedure with the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport)).
(b) STATUTORY CONSTRUCTION.Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the authority of the Administrator to pursue enforcement action against persons operating model aircraft who endanger the safety of the national airspace system.
(c) MODEL AIRCRAFT DEFINED.In this section, the term ‘‘model aircraft’’ means an unmanned aircraft that is—
- capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere;
- flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and
- flown for hobby or recreational purposes.