My Turn: Keep model aircraft hobbyists flying

For the Monitor
Wednesday, April 26, 2017

These days, drones are everywhere – in the news, on television and in the skies above New Hampshire. As summer approaches, many people will be flying recreational unmanned aircraft for the first time. And as Congress considers the budget for the Federal Aviation Administration later this year, it’s important that they take a close look at the educational programs that community-based organizations like the Academy of Model Aeronautics provide.

I’m one of the 1,073 AMA members in New Hampshire and almost 200,000 members of AMA, the largest organization of model aircraft enthusiasts in the world. Flying model aircraft has been a part of my life since I was 10 years old, when I started flying in local neighborhoods and the school yard. I joined my first AMA club in Rhode Island in the 1980s and have enjoyed flying, competing, introducing new people to the hobby, and educating the young and old since re-entering the hobby five years ago.

Since its founding in 1936, the AMA has been committed to educating members and those new to the hobby on how to fly model aircraft and drones safely and in the right places, through a community-based set of safety guidelines. AMA’s decades of experience have shown that the best way to promote safety isn’t to impose new regulations on recreational users; it’s to educate them about best practices and safe operation.

Safe flying includes following the safety guidelines developed by community-based organizations like the AMA. The safety guidelines provided by AMA help all enthusiasts ensure that they’re flying where and how they should be, including those enjoying the hobby in New Hampshire.

New to the hobby? Interested in taking to the air? Here are a few simple guidelines:

Fly no higher than 400 feet and remain below any surrounding obstacles when possible unless operating within an established community-based safety program or through a waiver from the FAA.

Remain well clear of, and do not interfere with, manned aircraft operations. You must see and avoid other aircraft and obstacles at all times.

Do not intentionally fly over unprotected persons or moving vehicles, and remain at least 25 feet away from individuals and vulnerable property.

Contact the airport or control tower before flying within five miles of an airport.

Consider seeking help from a local community-based organization, like AMA, to learn to fly.

As part of AMA’s ongoing commitment to educating hobbyists, and recognizing the growing interest in the flying of model aircraft and drones, AMA expanded its educational efforts to reach even more new people in 2014 by helping launch the “Know Before You Fly” campaign.

This campaign, created in partnership with other UAS industry leaders and the FAA, works to put important safety information and flying tips in the hands of newcomers to the hobby from across the country, even those who are not members of a community-based organization.

As Congress takes a look at FAA Reauthorization this year, I urge them to preserve the “special rule for model aircraft,” which affirms the importance of a community-based approach to managing the model aviation community. I want everyone to experience the joy of flying like I have, but that will be possible only if our longstanding hobby is preserved and we are able to fly without burdensome regulations.

(Daren Hudson is the associate vice president of District I of the Academy of Model Aeronautics, as well as club president of the Fremont Flyers RC Club in New Hampshire. He has been an airline pilot for more than 25 years and is a former flight instructor at Daniel Webster College in Nashua.)