Today the DOT’s Federal Aviation Administration published a notice in the Federal Register (80 FR 54417) indicating that it was revising Advisory Circular (AC) 91-57, Model Aircraft Operating Standards. The revision is required due to the requirements of §336 of PL 112-95 that was signed into law in February 2012. The FAA’s web site notes that AC 91-57 has been canceled.
AC 91-57 vs §336
The notice explains that: ”AC 91-57 contains provisions that are inconsistent with section 336 and therefore the Advisory Circular is being revised.”
Examples of the disconnect between §336 and AC 91-57 include:
∙ AC 91-57 sets a 3 mile limit for operations near an airport and §336 sets a 5 mile limit;
∙ AC 91-57 does not provide a definition of ‘model aircraft’ and §336 does; and
∙ Section 336 requires flight within line of sight of the operator.
There is nothing in the notice that indicates when the FAA expects the revised version of AC 91-57 will be released.
It took the FAA more than three years to decide that AC 91-57 conflicted with §336. It is not clear that Congress was demanding that AC 91-57 be revised. This section was designed more to keep the FAA from including model aircraft operation in any regulation governing commercial small unmanned aerial vehicles (sUAVs).
Interestingly there is one area that Congress loosened up the operation of model aircraft. AC 91-57 had provided a 400 foot operation limit for model aircraft and there is no ceiling limitation found in §336. With AC 91-57 no longer in force there is now no limit on how high model aircraft are allowed to fly.
I think that Congress probably ended up making a mistake in adding §336 to the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. The §336 standards for model aircraft ended up being more restrictive than the FAA had included in AC 91-57. The FAA had been very generous in their handling of model aircraft since they realized that the field was changing and evolving on a continuous basis. In setting more specified rules Congress will almost certainly be ensuring that the FAA would be putting more limits on the expansion and evolution of model aircraft design and operation.