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FAA drone registration opposed by model airplane group, LI clubs

A model drone flies over Farmingdale on Sept

A model drone flies over Farmingdale on Sept 27, 2015. The Academy of Model Aeronautics, the national group that sanctions hobby model aircraft clubs, has told its members not to register with the FAA until the legal deadline of Feb. 19 or until a petition the AMA has filed is resolved. Credit: Ed Betz

Thousands of hobbyists have begun registering drones and other unmanned aircraft on a new online federal registry, but a national model airplane group is advising its members to hold off.

The Academy of Model Aeronautics has informed its 185,000 members in 2,400 local clubs, including on Long Island, that it’s trying to negotiate an exemption to the safety rule with the Federal Aviation Administration.

In the meantime, the group is urging its members not to register their remote-controlled planes before the Feb. 19 deadline.

The FAA announced earlier this month that all hobby drones and model aircraft weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds must be registered by their owners to avoid potential penalties. The rule was spurred by a rash of drone sightings by commercial airline pilots near major airports.

But Academy officials say its members fly responsibly under club-enforced rules and with the protection of liability insurance. They should not be lumped into the same category as reckless drone operators who buzz their camera-equipped quadcopters near airports or over sports stadiums, endangering the public on the ground and in the air, the group contends.

“From the beginning of this process, we have argued that registration makes sense at some threshold and for those operating outside of a community-based organization or for commercial purposes,” the group said in a statement. “But for our members who have been flying safely for decades and who already register with AMA, we strongly believe that the new interim rule is unnecessary.”

The organization said it will examine “all legal and political remedies to relieve and protect our members from regulatory burdens.”

The group said a rule passed by Congress in 2012 prevents the FAA from placing restrictions on recreational model aircraft of less than 55 pounds that fly safely as part of a community-based group that’s affiliated with a national organization.

“We have an impeccable safety record,” said Steve Siedlecki, president of the Long Island Aero Radio Society and Long Island Flying Eagles clubs, both chartered with the Academy.

Siedlecki, of Patchogue, said the FAA has “completely ignored the rule that Congress has passed.”

He said he’ll tell his 240 members to register with the FAA, because if they don’t, they won’t be able to fly them legally.

Joe Wojtkowicz of Port Jefferson, secretary of the 130-member Long Island Silent Flyers Club, said his group is following the national organization’s advice to delay registration.

“We’re in a conflict between the FAA and the U.S. government, who controls the FAA,” he said. “It’s a very slippery slope that everybody is walking.”

In a statement, the FAA said the new registration “is a statutory requirement” that applies to all hobby aircraft.

Those caught flying without proof of registration face fines up to $250,000 and three years in jail.

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