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In final hours, FAA extends public-comment deadline on proposed drone laws

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With only a few hours before deadline, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Thursday it will extend 60 days the period for public comment on proposed new laws affecting model aircraft and drones in U.S. airspace.

The proposed rules, dubbed Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, would clarify current FAA regulations to address hobbyists who fly drones and other radio-controlled flying vehicles. If adopted as currently written, they would strictly limit how, when and where pilots fly their devices, including requiring permission from nearby airports and all but banning first-person-view flying.

The comment period, originally set to expire Friday, was extended to September 23 at the request of the Academy of Model Aeronautics, the nation’s largest association for hobbyists and commercial model-aircraft and drone flyers, according to an agency statement.

“The FAA expects that the additional time for comments will allow the affected community to prepare meaningful comments, which will help the FAA to determine what clarifications to the interpretation may be necessary,” it wrote.

The AMA requested the extension on July 16 in order to “educate the aeromodeling community, clarify the issues and respond to questions regarding the impact that the interpretive rule has on various aspects of the modeling activity.”

The comment period, which began June 23, was originally set for 30 days. After more than half that time passed, only about 3,000 comments were registered. The AMA, whose membership will be directly affected by the proposed law, instituted a massive effort to educate its 180,000 members of the legislation via emails, newsletters and videos, boosting comments to nearly 30,000 by early Friday.

The AMA has not been shy about its criticisms of the proposed rules, calling many of them “objectionable.” Of particular concern is language requiring model-aircraft pilots to “gain permission” from all airports within a five-mile radius, pointing out that the objections of “an overbearing controller or airport authority” may bring penalties, even if the flight was mere feet off the ground.

Comments, which must be individually read and adjudicated after the new deadline, can be submitted to the Regulations.gov website.

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