FANR5640/7640: Lecture 1 – Hobbyist and/or Recreational use of Unmanned Aircraft




Little bit of background

Congress recognized the FAA’s authority to regulate airspace use, management, and efficiency, air traffic control safety, navigational facilities, and aircraft noise at its source (49 U.S.C. §§ 40103, 44502, and 44701-44735. 1978)

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012(1a, 1b), the FMRA, is legislation mandating the FAA to develop a comprehensive plan to integrate small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) into the national airspace.  Among many issues addressed was how to accommodate hobbyist and recreation model aircraft enthusiasts.  Section 336 of the FMRA addresses the use of sUAS for noncommercial recreational and hobby purposes.  Advisory Circular 91-57A provides further guidance to persons operating unmanned aircraft for hobby or recreation purposes.

Advisory Circular 91-57A (September 2, 2015) (2)

For any person who engages in model aircraft operations…

6a, the legal definition of an aircraft and a model aircraft.

  1. 49 USC § 40102 defines an aircraft as “any contrivance invented, used, or designed to navigate, or fly in, the air.” 14 CFR § 1.1 defines an aircraft as “a device that is used or intended to be used for flight in the air.”
  2. Public Law 112-95 defines unmanned aircraft as an aircraft that is operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft.
  3. Section 336 of P.L. 112-95 defines a model aircraft as an unmanned aircraft that is capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere, flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft, and flown only for hobby or recreational purposes.

6b, a warning to those who endanger the safety of the National Airspace System (NAS)


Model Aircraft Hazards in the NAS. While aero-modelers generally are concerned about safety and exercise good judgment when flying model aircraft for the hobby and recreational purposes for which they are intended, they may share the airspace in which manned aircraft are operating. Unmanned aircraft, including model aircraft, may pose a hazard to manned aircraft in flight and to persons and property on the surface if not operated safely. Model aircraft operations that endanger the safety of the National Airspace System, particularly careless or reckless operations or those that interfere with or fail to give way to any manned aircraft may be subject to FAA enforcement action.

6c, the determination of what may be considered a “model aircraft operation” as it relates to section 336 of the FMRA

  1. The aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use;
  2. The aircraft operates in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization (CBO);
  3. The aircraft is limited to not more than 55 pounds, unless otherwise certified through a design, construction, inspection, flight test, and operational safety program administered by a CBO;
  4. The aircraft operates in a manner that does not interfere with, and gives way to, any manned aircraft; and
  5. When flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the model aircraft provides the airport operator or the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport) with prior notice of the operation. Model aircraft operators flying from a permanent location within 5 miles of an airport should establish a mutually agreed upon operating procedure with the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport).

6d, right of the Administrator to pursue enforcement

Public Law 112-95, the FMRA, recognizes the authority of the Administrator to pursue enforcement action against persons operating model aircraft who endanger the safety of the National Airspace System. Accordingly, model aircraft operators must comply with any Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR). TFRs are issued over specific locations due to disasters, or for reasons of national security; or when determined necessary for the management of air traffic in the vicinity of aerial demonstrations or major sporting events. Do not operate model aircraft in designated areas until the TFR is no longer in force.

Model aircraft must not operate in Prohibited Areas, Special Flight Rule Areas or, the Washington National Capital Region Flight Restricted Zone, without specific authorization.  Such areas are depicted on charts available at  Additionally, model aircraft operators should be aware of other Notices to Airmen (NOTAMS) which address operations near locations such as military or other federal facilities, certain stadiums, power plants, electric substations, dams, oil refineries, national parks, emergency, services and other industrial complexes. In addition to the previously mentioned link, information regarding published NOTAMS can be found at:

The requirement to not fly within TFRs, or other circumstances where prohibited, would apply to operation of model aircraft that would otherwise comply with section 336 of Public Law 112-95.

6e, sets flying height limit

Model aircraft operators should follow best practices including limiting operations to 400 feet above ground level (AGL).

6f, adds a catchall

All other operators and for additional information on Unmanned Aircraft Systems please visit:

This list is provided to differentiate between hobby/recreation and commercial activities


Clarification Regarding Educational Use of sUAS(3)


  • A person may operate an unmanned aircraft for hobby or recreation in accordance with section 336 of the FMRA at educational institutions and community-sponsored events provided that person is (1) not compensated, or (2) any compensation received is neither directly nor incidentally related to that person’s operation of the aircraft at such events;
  • A student may conduct model aircraft operations in accordance with section 336 of the FMRA in furtherance of his or her aviation-related education at an accredited educational institution.
  • Faculty teaching aviation-related courses at accredited educational institutions may assist students who are operating a model aircraft under section 336 and in connection with a course that requires such operations, provided the student maintains operational control of the model aircraft such that the faculty member’s manipulation of the model aircraft’s controls is incidental and secondary to the student’s

If an unmanned aircraft is operated as a model aircraft in accordance with section 336, then it does not require FAA authorization.

Page 4, paragraph 2 & 3

FAA ‘Fly For Fun’ Website(4)

FAA informational website for hobby use of sUAS (

FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012: Conference Report to Accompany H.R. 658.  PL. 112-95. 112th Congress, 2d session of House of Representatives, 2012.
FAA Advisory Circular 91-57A [Online]. Model Aircraft Operating Standards: 2015. [10 Jan. 2017].
FAA Memorandum: Educational Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)., 2016.
Fly for Fun [Online]. Fly for Fun: [date unknown]. [11 Jan. 2017].