We are First-Person View (FPV) pilots and model aircraft enthusiasts who do not agree with the Academy of Model Aeronautics’ (AMA) current restrictions on FPV flight. We request that the AMA reconsider its current policies toward FPV operations, contained in AMA Document #550, for the reasons we have set forth below.
FPV is the future of model aviation, as the rapidly dropping costs of lightweight video cameras and wireless video transmitters make it more accessible, even to modelers with modest budgets. With ready-to-fly FPV airplanes now hitting the market, it will not be long before anyone can get involved in this exciting new activity within model aviation. There may in fact come a time when nearly all new model aircraft sold have built-in video cameras.
At the same time, the AMA has thus far exhibited an astounding hostility toward FPV, which can only be characterized as the reluctance of an aging and risk-averse organization to adapt to the challenges presented by new technology. The AMA leadership has missed no opportunity to condemn certain high profile FPV flights as unsafe, regardless of the extensive safety precautions taken by those who conducted them. The most recent issue of the AMA's monthly magazine, Model Aviation, has the president of the AMA rejoicing that an FPV flyer was arrested and jailed for flying over a sports stadium, even though the person's arrest had nothing to do with his FPV activities.
The AMA is missing out on a growing source of enthusiastic new members, as many FPV flyers refuse to participate in an organization that views us as a threat and an enemy. Unless it becomes more accommodating toward FPV, the AMA runs the risk of driving itself into irrelevance as the progress of the hobby passes it by.
Moreover, the restrictions the AMA currently places on FPV flight are overly restrictive and severely limit the activity’s potential. We can say with certainty that virtually no FPV flyer in the United States follows the AMA's rules. With this in mind we request two specific changes:
1. Eliminate the buddy-box requirement – This rule treats FPV pilots like beginners having to be coddled by an instructor, and assumes that direct visual contact is superior to flying by video, when in fact the reverse is true. A live video feed from the model gives a far more precise idea of exactly what the model is doing at any given time. The overwhelming attitude among FPV flyers is that the buddy-box rule makes FPV less safe, rather than more, because a crash is far more likely to result from an inexperienced spotter seizing control of the model at the first sign of trouble, than from the pilot simply flying through any video dropouts that may occur. Having a buddy-box connected also precludes the use of other equipment like UHF control systems with far superior range and reliability compared to stock transmitters, or the use of head trackers and panning cameras. If the AMA ever wishes for its rules to be taken seriously by FPV flyers, it must at minimum eliminate the buddy-box rule.
2. Eliminate or relax the visual line-of-site restriction – Most FPV flyers view the AMA's restriction to flying within visual line-of-sight (VLOS) as far too limiting, as most interesting targets to film from the air are further away than the couple thousand feet away one may safely control a model while flying it visually. When flying through a reasonably reliable video link, it makes no difference whether the model is 10 feet away or 1 mile away. While there is a natural fear of flying a model out of sight, doing so does not substantially increase the risk of an accident, and becomes perfectly natural to most FPV flyers. If the AMA does choose to relax the VLOS requirement, reasonable weight and altitude restrictions on FPV aircraft flown beyond VLOS could be imposed instead to minimize the risk to manned aircraft. A spotter could also be required, not to observe the model itself, but the airspace around the model and alert the FPV pilot to potential conflicts.
We have taken note of the AMA's recent survey regarding FPV, and it is our hope that this survey indicates a growing willingness in the AMA to accommodate FPV rather than condemn it. While FPV represents the future of model aviation, the AMA also represents the best hope for the future of FPV. As a community-based organization under the new congressional law, it has the authority to set operational standards which allow sufficient freedom for modelers of all types to pursue our hobby unmolested by excessive government regulation.
In that spirit, we urge the AMA to reconsider its rules regarding FPV Operations.
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