Let me be clear – I support the AMA. I just paid my AMA dues, and I even elected to pay for two years to put some more cash in their war chest. However what I am questioning at this point is this; has the AMA lost their effectiveness when it comes to battling our dysfunctional government?
This question stems from this last year’s saga with the FAA. Not to ‘drone’ on about everything that has happened, but the brief is that this year started with a memorandum of understanding between the AMA and the FAA, and a few months later, the FAA throws the FPV segment of the hobby under the bus with a rules interpretation, and most recently they have decided they can enforce aviation regulations onto modelers in general. There are hundreds of opinions as to why, ranging from drone flyers out of control and an eminent threat to aviation safety, to big government contractors using their weight to bully out small business from the soon to be $15 Billion dollar drone business. That discussion is beyond the scope of this blog post, so I will leave at that.
Observation #1 is the lack of visibility the AMA has had to these events. I realize that the AMA headquarters is in Muncie, IN, but we sort of assume and expect they either regularly visit Washington D.C. or have some permanent presence there. So I would also sort of expect to be regular visitors to FAA offices, and meeting with staff. I could be wrong, but when they have at least one person dedicated to government relations, we should have at least a little clue as to what is coming down the pipe.
Instead, we all got blindsided by the June FAA interpretation. It was published apparently without the AMA’s knowledge, and it took them several days or weeks to come up with a formal response. When I first learned of it, our local AMA rep was not aware, and I think he thought I was exaggerating what I was telling him. Unfortunately I was not.
Observation #2 is with each new action from the FAA, the AMA’s reaction has been less aggressive. The June FAA interpretation at least caught the AMA off guard enough that they crafted a strongly worded letter. Many members were calling for law suits against the FAA. The action the AMA decided to take was to file a petition to review the Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft. That may be the appropriate action, but it does feel kind of soft.
So with this week’s NTSB decision to grant the FAA’s appeal in support of fining an aero modeler $10K for violating aviation regulations against reckless operation of an aircraft (as in the kind with pilots and passengers), I would expect to see some sort of escalation in language the AMA responds with. This is after all, and major shift in the direction of the FAA coming directly after modelers. Instead, we get this from the AMA:
The Academy of Model Aeronautics shares FAA’s concern regarding the unsafe and irresponsible behavior of some UAS operators and stands ready to assist the FAA in its efforts towards maintaining the safety of the national airspace. AMA’s Safety Program has proven to be an effective means of educating and managing the recreational and personal use UAS community and has been highly successful in achieving compliance with its safety guidelines. The U.S. Congress recognized the efficacy of AMA’s Safety Program in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and demonstrated its confidence in such programming by specifying the use of community-based programming as means of overseeing and managing the aeromodeling activity in the national airspace.
That is about as soft of a statement you can make to not ‘upset’ anyone at the FAA. I get no sense of solidarity from the AMA by this. Yes of course we like safety and practice safe flying, but the FAA’s action have basically said that they will ignore what the AMA has established as safe operating procedures, and can now prosecute modelers based on no known set of safety standards.
So this post is what the title says – a question. Has the AMA gone limp? Are these signs of a fatally weakened lobbying group? Or perhaps they are picking their battles, and throwing the case of the ‘reckless’ modeler under the bus? Not sure, but I’d like to hear what the AMA’s plans are for next year.