Regulating An Industry Out of Existence 

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Senator Johnny Isakson, Senator David Perdue, Congressman Rob Woodall,

First and foremost my family appreciates all you do to represent us in the great state of Georgia. Congressman Woodall, you have personally been to my shop in Cumming, GA, and have seen what we are accomplishing in the technology and education arenas.

Today, I am writing the three of you as a small business entrepreneur who puts everything on the line each and every day in the hobby industry, as my company strives to educate kids on aviation, electronics and more. With all of the technological advances, society has changed. We are no longer forced to learn simple tasks as basic as how to use a screwdriver or change a tire, much less knowledge of electronics or flight.

Do you remember your days in school when you had that one class that excited you? That one class you wanted to attend each day? Model aircraft is a great way to teach the next generation science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and to do so in a way that is exciting for them.

There is a move afoot by large corporations and the FAA to destroy our next generations dreams. I strongly urge you to preserve Section 336 of the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, also known as the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, in the upcoming reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The three of you will vote on this and families need you to do the right thing.

My company is a very strong proponent of education and aviation safety. I am a private pilot who holds many aircraft ratings including powered planes, gliders, ultralights and the unmanned Part 107 Remote Pilot certificate. My company knows the need for education and teaches UAV/ drone flight courses and safety programs for entry-level students, professional flying commercially, and even large companies. Some of our clients include National Geographic, the Weather Channel, Southern Company, General Electric, Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Talon Aerolytics, CoStar, the U.S. Defense Department, Homeland Security, and FEMA. Also included are most emergency management organizations, municipalities, police and state highway patrol agencies. Notably, two of our clients are movie stars Tyler Perry and Phillip Grossman from PGP images. Grossman is the known as the first pilot to fly a drone in Chernobyl and the Fukushima Nuclear power plants. We have also outfitted equipment and provided maintenance for many movie studios including the crew of the Walking Dead television series as well as CNN, ABC, CBS and Fox News. We are the primary vendor and handle all training, equipment sales, and fleet management services. Another one of our clients currently has the largest fully deployed fleet of UAVs in the USA, and possibly the world.

Our most important client, however, are kids and their parents who come to us to learn electronics, math, and aviation in a fun and safe way.

The FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot certificate is the proper regulation for the commercial UAV environment. However, the hobby and model aircraft area of our industry is different. Regulation will put an end to the hobby industry, along with the benefits it would bring to our future generations. Even the current registration requirement has negatively impacted our industry. Many hobby companies filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and 2018, costing thousands of jobs and millions in lost income and tax revenue.

Do you wish to tell families that their children and small model airplanes need federal regulation?

I am very worried that if you vote to eliminate or modify section 336 in any way, that more government regulation will mark the end of an already struggling industry. The Special Rule for Model Aircraft allows hobbyists like myself to fly within the safety programming of a community-based organization (CBO), this provides an alternative for some hobbyists that is equitable – if not more rigid – than what the FAA offers to those who do not operate within a CBO.

Flying model aircraft is much more than a hobby; it is a fantastic tool for teaching science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to many kids and teenagers. As an example, one of the projects my company has been blessed to be apart of is the Colonel Williams Program. The project is headed by Aerospace Engineering Teacher Stephen V. Williams, who is a Lt. Colonel, USAF/Ga ANG (Ret), Captain, Northwest Airlines (Ret) and a Lt. Colonel with the Civil Air Patrol.

The Colonel Williams program has seen tremendous success, pushing my teams to work on new projects with schools including the new technology Alliance Academy for Innovation and others in Forsyth County. These programs start in the 5th grades but will be unavailable with more regulation.

For many young people, it is proven that model aviation leads to successful careers in aviation and engineering, jobs that are increasingly vital to our future.  Many famous aviators started flying model airplanes at a young age, including astronaut Neil Armstrong, and aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan. Even my Dad, Cliff Whitney Sr, who after learning model aircraft with both his father and brothers, went on to the U.S. Air Force, and then into the television industry, specializing in electronics.

I am deeply concerned that eliminating the Special Rule for Model Aircraft will not only impact my industry and my 20 employee but also hundreds of thousands of youth members for whom the hobby is the catalyst for STEM-related careers.

Model aviation enthusiasts have been the cradle of innovation for both the manned and unmanned communities for decades. The AMA CBO community has been around even before the FAA was founded and has helped to develop and advance aircraft platforms since the 1930s. Today, as technology continues to improve, modelers are dreaming up new ways to apply and use aircraft technology to help society.

As a long-time modeler and small business owner in your areas, I urge you to vote to preserve the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, as it is, with no modifications in the upcoming FAA reauthorization bill and protect this long-standing hobby.

If you vote to eliminate the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, it would be a devastating blow to children’s innovation abilities.

Lastly, with you voting to allow CBOs like the AMA to manage our own communities it will free up scarce FAA resources, which in turn helps keep the US deficit down and our skies safe for everyone.

I look forward to your reply and support to continue the 336 as it is.

Thank you and good winds!

Cliff Whitney


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