AMA to FAA on Model Registration: Hold Your Horses!

February, 2016 update. The FAA recently announced that all pilots of radio control vehicles (“models”) that fly in the National Air Space (NAS) must be registered.

The Academy of Model Aeronautics then filed suit against the FAA in a dispute over the proposed registration requirement, and originally asked its members to not register until the last day of the proposed FAA registration period, February 19, 2016, pending further advice from the AMA, and/or the outcome of the suit.

The FAA explained that its registration requirement came about owing to advanced GPS and similar technologies that enable aerial vehicles to easily be guided to specific destinations – such as anyone's front door. Anyone 13 years of age or older flying radio control (RC) models in the National Air Space (NAS) would be subject to the new registration requirement, as it stands. It applies to anyone flying any radio-controlled model outdoors that weighs 250 grams (8+ oz.), up to 55 pounds total weight.

The FAA noted that it took as non-intrusive a position as it reasonably could in establishing this registration requirement. By way of background, the proposed ID system would enable the authorities to quickly identify the origin of any unmanned vehicle. Under the requirement, aircraft must have an easily readable ID number on or in the airframe. With the ID number clearly visible, it would be easy to identify the owner and locate his or her address via the national registry. One could view this as similar in kind to the societal obligations we assume when obtaining a driver's license. Be that as it may, the AMA considers this to be AMA business, not that of the FAA. We continue to support the AMA's position. 

Over 45,000 had Registered by December 21

The FAA, unfazed by the turf dispute, has moved forward with its registration process, and it was reported by engadget on December 23 that 45,000 pilots had registered by December 21, only two days after registration had opened. See:  The FAA reported that in the first 30 days after the FAA's online drone pilot registration system went live, nearly 300,000 amateur drone pilots had registered. This is a testament to the enormous demand for access to the skies in recreational hobbyist markets. For details, see:

Over 340,000 Pilots Registered by February, 2016

The number continues to rise, and by early February over 340,000 pilots had registered. see:

Earlier, Aviation Week had reported that commercial registrations under the Section 333 exemption are mushrooming: "To employ a UAS weighing 55 lb. or less in a commercial venture—which includes using it in furtherance of a business, but not necessarily in a revenue-generating capacity—the operator must apply for and receive a Section 333 exemption from the FAA... As of mid-January, a little more than 3,000 businesses and individuals had applied for and received a Section 333 exemption..."



The AOPA recently reported that the FAA is formulating new regulation of micro drones, currently defined as systems weighing 4.4 pounds or less, that will enable such UAS systems to fly nearer to people during commercial operations. Current restrictions require a 500 foot buffer between systems and people (other than operators). The Micro UAS Aviation Rulemaking Committee will study and develop recommendations for "performance-based standards" that would allow very small UAS to fly closer-in to people.

FAA Administrator Michael Herta commented, "Based on the comments about a 'micro' classification submitted as part of the small UAS proposed rule, the FAA will pursue a flexible, performance-based regulatory framework that addresses potential hazards instead of a classification defined primarily by weight and speed."

The rulemaking effort was announced a week after the FAA reported a collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security and CACI International, Inc., a Virginia technology firm, that is developing technical means to ID drones and their operators, if such systems are flown too close to an airport. More.


AMA Update

The AMA has posted a helpful, short video that we recommend on FAA registration and the AMA's basic position on UAS. We applaud the AMA for launching STEM education programs based on UAS technology, as well. 

Watch this brief roundtable on AMA registration and then peruse the links below for the full story. 

AMA Air Interviews AMA Government Relations Team

Chris Savage and Erin Dobbs invite members from AMA’s Government Relations Team to discuss the FAA UAS registration in this helpful, must see clip. They address commonly asked questions and the AMA’s suggestion that members hold off on registration while the AMA pursues legal and political remedies. Please click here for details:


FAA model registration opened December 21, 2016:

FAA position statement:

FAA answers most frequently asked questions:

FAA safety

FAA Toy Weight TipsRecreational UAS Weights document (PDF).

Forbes: modeler addresses to be publicly available:

IEEE Spektrum Explains Registration Details:

The AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics) Position Statement:

As we proceed with this process, we suggest AMA members hold off on registering their model aircraft with the FAA until advised by the AMA or until February 19, the FAA’s legal deadline for registering existing model aircraft. Holding off on registration will allow AMA time to fully consider all possible options.”

  The AMA recently noted that members are now caught in a deadline crunch and registration with the FAA is now unavoidable,
"... a definitive solution is unlikely before the February 19 registration deadline. Therefore, AMA members are now required by regulation to register their aircraft with the FAA to avoid federal enforcement and potential penalties"


Illustration: Filippo Monteforte / AFP / Getty. Story and Photos by Tom Atwood.