Article written by Gary Fitch, AMA Executive Vice President.
Introduction (by Carlos)
The current issue of Model Aviation magazine, dated October 2012, contains a regular monthly column entitled From the Copilot’s Seat. It is written by Gary Fitch, the current AMA Executive Vice President.
Buried in the back of the magazine, I can imagine that many missed it. That is a real shame. I read the column and was very impressed. In fact, I liked it so much that I emailed Gary to tell him. With Gary’s permission, I am reprinting his column here. My email is reprinted below, too. If you want to understand the current FPV flying situation, read his words carefully.
Changes in FPV Restrictions (by Gary Fitch)
Most of you are aware of what first-person view (FPV) is. This is a rapidly growing and changing segment of the hobby where the pilot flies his or her aircraft using a set of goggles with a video screen, or a separate screen that one looks into. The aircraft has a video camera that transmits live feed to the pilot, providing the view of being in the aircraft. This is an exciting segment of the hobby.
In 2008 and 2009, the Executive Council (EC) recognized this and developed Document 550, allowing our members to fly FPV providing the FPV pilot was buddy-boxed and the spotter could take control of the aircraft at any time. The aircraft always has to be flown within visual line of sight and within the designated flying site and approved overfly area.
The aircraft’s maximum weight is 10 pounds and its maximum speed is 60 mph. We felt that these basic rules were a good place to start, and in fact, similar rules were adopted by the British, Australian, and Canadian model aviation organizations.
This past May, EC members felt that we had some experience under our belts and we knew that the FPV community wanted to see our rules relaxed. We decided that we would take a look at the existing rules and we invited a few members of the FPV community to participate because we wanted their input. We felt this was a logical approach since we want the FPV hobbyists to be a welcome part of our organization.
The FPV community became aware of the model aircraft provision in the FAA Reauthorization Bill passed by Congress in February, providing some protection from onerous regulation to members of a national community based model aviation organization such as AMA. They also learned that the EC was again looking at our FPV rules.
Some of them decided to develop an online petition requesting that AMA work to include the FPV community in that protection and they sent this petition to all EC members. They invited FPV pilots from around the world to petition us to eliminate or modify nearly all of the rules of our Document 550.
I do not believe this petition had any impact in the council’s considerations, and it was not even mentioned during the FPV discussions at the July EC meeting. The FPV hobbyists who worked with us influenced the outcome.
As a sidebar, I want to mention that as of this writing, we received 435 FPV petitions. Of those, 122 were from foreigners and 313 from Americans; approximately 48% of those are AMA members.
The foreign petitioners had no influence in our decision, especially after the serious issues one Raphael Pirker from Switzerland caused two years ago when he flew FPV over landmarks, buildings, people, vehicles, and bridges of our nation’s largest city. The result of these actions nearly caused the shutdown of all model flying sites in the five boroughs of New York City.
This certainly didn’t help the FPV cause in this country. Interestingly, Mr. Pirker had the audacity to sign and send the FPV petition to AMA.
We reviewed the petition the Americans signed and from this we realized that many of these people want to be part of AMA, and we would like to see this as well. However, one sentence of the FPV petition that all 435 people signed is particularly disturbing. It specifically states, “We can say with certainty that virtually no FPV flyer in the United States follows the AMA’s rules.”
This is concerning because they are asking us to intervene on their behalf, providing the same protection and benefits as our other members enjoy, but will they agree to follow our rules? Each AMA member agrees to abide by our Safety Code and other related safety and operational documents. To do otherwise, an AMA member risks the loss of those protections and expulsion from membership.
We work with the FAA, which has been tasked with regulating our National Air Space, and its reach goes far beyond what other countries experience. The FPV petition demands we relax or remove the visual line-of-sight rule, so they can fly several thousand feet to a mile or more from the flying field.
This is unrealistic for the FPV hobbyist in today’s real-world environment. The visual line-of sight criteria is a key component in the FAA’s requirement to “See and Avoid” other airborne traffic and is unlikely to change. What many in the FPV community seek falls under the commercial side of the sUAS, which will likely require licensing and other safety requirements.
These rules are expected to be released when the FAA publishes its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. It is logical that the FPV community would like to avoid licensing, and become part of the community-based organization, which is AMA, but it can’t be unfettered without rules and some restrictions.
The EC has rewritten the FPV rules for hobbyists, which are being reviewed by our legal counsel before being adopted. We hope that the pilots, who are true hobbyists and not looking to use FPV for commercial application, will be pleased with our efforts because we have reduced the restrictions, actually making our rules more liberal than most countries. One of those changes is the elimination of the buddy-box requirement for experienced FPV pilots.
Look for an announcement about AMA Document 550 soon. We want our members to experience and enjoy new technologies, but they need to do so in a safe manner and one that does not jeopardize the rest of model aviation or full-scale aviation. We can not and we will not allow that to happen!
My Email to Gary Fitch (by Carlos)
Hi. I just finished reading your column in the October 2012 issue of Model Aviation. I agree 1000% with your words. It feels great knowing that those at AMA HQ representing my interests are such thoughtful and levelheaded individuals.
I imagine the FPV enthusiasts of today are not too different from many of the drivers during the early days of the automobile. As the technology got better and cars could go faster and faster, I am sure there were some drivers that felt they should be able to drive as fast as they wished. I am sure it took time and experience to learn the folly of that sentiment.
Final Words (by Carlos)
The infamous video of the New York City FPV flight is below. I am also including an interview of the pilot, Raphael “Trappy” Pirker, conducted by Flite Test shortly after the incident. I reviewed the Flite Test website a few months back and gave it a thumbs down. After watching their interview, I like their website even less.
As a private citizen, you do not get to pick and choose which laws you follow. Terms like “mostly”, “sort of”, “kind of”, as used in the interview video, are huge red flags. They tell me that you are being stupid, and they tell the government that you should not be flying. Enough said.
I am keeping a close eye on the soon to be released updated AMA FPV rules. I have it on good authority that FPV pilots will like the changes. I am also told that they will be made public within a couple more weeks. Look for an announcement here when that happens.