By Chuck Bower
For The Herald
Congress is now considering legislation that sets policies for the Federal Aviation Administration, including some provisions that could harm the century-old hobby of flying model aircraft.
Threats to the aeromodeling hobby should be a concern for everyone, not just those who love to fly model airplanes like myself.
I am a member of the Academy of Model Aeronautics, a nationwide organization that for more than eight decades has represented those who fly model aircraft for fun and educational purposes. The academy safely manages a group of responsible hobbyists through Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, more commonly known as the Special Rule for Model Aircraft.
Academy membership provides access to a $2.5 million-dollar insurance policy, numerous educational programs, a flying community and robust safety guidelines. Its members follow a strict safety program, so my fellow members and I know how to fly safely and responsibly. In addition, model aircraft clubs across Washington also contribute to their communities by hosting a summer camp event that lets kids with developmental disabilities fly model aircraft and enjoy outdoor activities.
For me, flying model aircraft means family. My son and I enjoyed building and flying model aircraft together, and now he hopes to pass down the love of aviation to my grandson as well.
Unfortunately, some in Washington, D.C., want to gut the model aircraft rule and force new regulations on responsible model aviation hobbyists. I urge Congress and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, to preserve this important provision, especially for the 56 clubs in Washington.
Model aviation is important to so many.
Flying model aircraft is much more than a hobby; it is an effective tool for teaching STEM courses to kids and teenagers. For many of these young people, aeromodeling leads to successful careers in aviation, aerospace, science and engineering, jobs that are increasingly vital to our future. In fact, many famous aviators started flying model airplanes at a young age, including astronaut Neil Armstrong and aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan.
A repeal of the model aircraft rule would also be a devastating blow to innovation. Many mistakenly believe drones are a recent invention. To the contrary; the aeromodeling community has helped develop and advance unmanned flying since the turn of the 20th century. Even today, modelers are dreaming up new and innovative platforms. Imagine a world where a young Steve Jobs or Henry Ford was restricted from tinkering in their garage. We cannot let that happen.
In addition, the model aircraft rule helps keep our skies safe for everyone. This provision facilitates critical public-private partnerships, which frees up scarce FAA resources. Even with the academy managing model aircraft hobbyists and funding broader educational efforts, such as our Know Before You Fly campaign, the FAA is still under-resourced to handle the growing surge in commercial drones, Part 107 waiver requests and future rulemaking. Eliminating this section will exacerbate the demand on the agency’s resources, which may have implications for the safety of our skies, the commercial drone industry and other agency priorities.
We recognize that some tweaks to the model aircraft rule may be needed to clarify who the provision does and does not cover. That’s why we are actively working with Congress, the manned aviation community and the UAS industry on policy solutions to these challenges within the framework of Section 336. However, any changes to this section must continue to support model aviation, innovation and the important role of the model aviation hobby in facilitating STEM education.
Congress should preserve the Special Rule for Model Aircraft and protect the hobby of model aviation — not just for me, but for everyone. The aeromodeling hobby is needed to promote STEM education and innovation, support the FAA and to keep our skies safe.
Chuck Bower is the former vice president of District 11 of the Academy of Model Aeronautics and lives in Langley.