These days, drones are everywhere — in the news, on television and in the skies above Kansas. This summer especially, many people will be flying recreational unmanned aircraft, often referred to as “drones,” for the first time. And as Congress considers reauthorization for the Federal Aviation Administration, it’s important that it takes a close look at the educational programs that community-based organizations like the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) provide.
I’m one of 1,714 AMA members in Kansas, out of almost 200,000 total, making it the largest organization of model aircraft enthusiasts in the world. Flying model aircraft has been a part of my life since I was 11 years old, after I received a Goldberg Red Baron for my birthday, and my best friend taught me how to fly. As owner and operator of a hobby shop in my hometown of Shawnee, I am proud to say I am now an AMA hobby shop ambassador.
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. The 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.
The safety guidelines it provides help all enthusiasts ensure that they’re flying where and how they should be, including those enjoying the hobby in Kansas. New to the hobby? Interested in taking to the air? Here are a few simple guidelines:
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▪ 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 organization, like AMA, to learn to fly.
The 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 unmanned aircraft 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.
Model aviation is also more than just a hobby that is passed down from generation to generation. It’s an effective tool for inspiring young people to explore careers in science, technology, engineering and math — the STEM fields. Many famous aviators, including astronaut Neil Armstrong, point to model aviation as the gateway to their interest in aviation and subsequent careers. In support of this, the AMA is involved in numerous STEM projects for students of all ages through its education department, clubs, and partners.
As Congress works on FAA reauthorization, I urge it to preserve the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, which affirms the importance of a community-based approached 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.
Dirk Mason of Shawnee is the owner of DWSHobbies.