January 31, 2015 / 12:06 AM / 3 years ago

UPDATE 2-U.S. regulators sow confusion about 'toy' drones in rules

(Adds government statement, details)

By Alwyn Scott

NEW YORK, Jan 30 (Reuters) - U.S. regulators have published a description about forthcoming rules on drones that omits mention of toys, sowing confusion among lawyers and hobbyists who are closely following the development of the new regulations.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has closely guarded its draft rule, leading to intense speculation about how it will govern both commercial flights for photography and crop inspections, and recreational flying by hobbyists.

Concern about drone dangers intensified this week after a toy quadcopter crash-landed on the lawn of the White House.

Many observers have been baffled by the lack of rules governing such burgeoning use of inexpensive toy drones and are expecting the FAA to address them in its rule, which is months overdue.

So they saw it as significant when a description of the rule was updated by the White House last month to include toy drones.

On Friday, the FAA said the revised description was essentially a typo, and would be corrected. The agency said its own description remained unchanged - without mention of toys.

But lawyers and hobbyists saw an indicator of the FAA's intentions, even as the agency remained mum about the rule.

"The language suggests that the draft rule contains proposed regulations specifically addressed to toys," said Brendan Schulman, a lawyer at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel who represents civilian drone makers and operators.

The White House wording created "a lot of confusion," especially after a drone crashed there, said Lisa Ellman, a lawyer in the drone practice at McKenna Long & Aldridge.

Rich Hanson, government affairs director of the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), the world's largest model aircraft organization, said it appeared the White House wanted specific rules for toys.

His organization, which has 170,000 members, recently requested a meeting with the FAA to discuss the issue.

The AMA helped win an exemption in 2012 from new FAA rules for hobbyists, arguing its safety code has allowed members to fly without incident for decades.

But pressure is growing for more restrictions. Inexpensive remote-control aircraft are widely available on the Internet and big-box stores. They have been sighted increasingly over crowded stadiums and straying into the flight paths of airplanes.

The 2012 exemption has made the FAA's job in crafting a rule difficult. So the FAA and AMA have teamed up on an education campaign, including a website, knowbeforeyoufly.org. (Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Lisa Shumaker)

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