It’s a good question and hopefully the following will reveal a few answers.
Whenever the subject of BMFA membership is discussed amongst model flyers there will be differing opinions regarding the benefits or otherwise of being part of the recognised national body for model flying.
For many, the insurance is the very obvious and visible benefit of membership, and any survey would confirm the insurance as the number one reason for joining the BMFA (along with membership of an affiliated club).
However, it is worth looking at some of the other benefits of being part of a large, established organisation which are perhaps not quite so obvious, and perhaps should be broadcast more to the wider model flying community.
Comments like “what does the BMFA do for us?” or “its just insurance?” have often been heard and regularly pop up on the on-line model flying forums, hopefully this article will give a flavour of not only what the BMFA does for you, but also what the BMFA does, has done and continues to do for model flying as a whole.
Every day of the year there is work taking place to protect and enhance the sport of model flying by the BMFA, much of it done by “head office” but also a great deal of work is carried out by the network of willing and dedicated volunteers who make up a significant proportion of the 36,000 members.
Perhaps one of the BMFA’s greatest failings has been the lack of “trumpet blowing” regarding the various achievements over the years, and whilst most of the information has been publicized, perhaps a more “in your face” approach is required.
There is no doubt that historically speaking, without the BMFA (and remember the BMFA is it’s members) model flying as we enjoy it today would not exist, or at the very least would be a very different and restricted sport indeed.
Below are just a few historical BMFA achievements that have shaped model flying as we know it, along with some, more recent situations where we have assisted clubs and members.
Did you know?
- In 1991 the BMFA lobbied against CAA proposals to restrict all model aircraft to 400ft altitude and a maximum weight of 2Kg.
- Following these negotiations BMFA were delegated the power of self regulation by the CAA.
- The BMFA has negotiated with DEFRA and the Rural Payments Agency to strengthen the position of model flying clubs in relation to farm subsidy payments.
- Obtained Sports Council Recognition for model flying.
- Negotiated a national agreement to prevent local authorities from amending their byelaws without consultation.
- The BMFA negotiated a national agreement with the National Trust for the use of their land for silent flight disciplines.
- Obtained the use of the 35MHz band for model flying use.
- Negotiated the use of 2.4GHz for model flying use in 2006.
- In 2008 we represented UK model flyers at the European commission in Brussels following a challenge on the use of 2.4GHz for model control.
These are just a few samples of historical work that has helped to shape and protect model flying as we know it today, but on a day to day basis there is much work taking place that directly benefits members and clubs, a few examples of more current work are below.
- Presently we have a number of ongoing legal disputes requiring significant BMFA input as well as legal representation from BMFA appointed (and funded) solicitors, at any one time there are around a dozen ongoing planning applications that we are assisting with.
- Recently we have assisted a club where a planning application was made for a large house 150 metres from their strip, the planning department recommended approval which would have caused significant ongoing problems and restrictions for the club, however we represented the club at the planning committee and the proposal was rejected.
- Currently there are several ongoing cases where clubs have lost their flying site and we are assisting and negotiating on their behalf to try and secure future use.
- There is a steady stream of clubs receiving complaints from their neighbours that we have to deal with, usually unreasonable complaints but occasionally they are entirely reasonable, in which case we work with the club regarding measures to mitigate the issues and often act as a mediator.
- Unfortunately, internal club disputes are relatively common and we are often called on to advise or mediate, several this year have escalated to the point of legal actions not to mention alleged and actual physical assaults requiring Police involvement.
- We are also regularly consulted when councils are considering implementing or amending byelaws, and there are quite a number of public sites up and down the country that non club member flyers can use because the BMFA have intervened when the council moved to impose unreasonable restrictions.
- We are also assisting a significant number of BMFA Country Members as individuals in cases where they are being told they can’t fly at locations where they have flown for many years without problems.
- We have assisted clubs whose sites have come under threat from proposed wind turbine development (this problem is likely to become more common due to the well publicised governmental commitment to “green” energy sources).
- Development of on-line membership services to permit new and existing members to join/renew on line, this has had a very successful start (almost 5000 memberships taken on line within the first few weeks of the year, 90 of them on New Year’s Day), going forward this facility will have more functionality for members and clubs.
- The launching of a new on-line “club locater” map to help potential members find their nearest BMFA club.
- Further work to develop the overall BMFA on-line presence.
Of course the above is a very small sample of the activity that takes place from the BMFA office, and in addition to this, each week there are several hundred phone calls from members (and non members) requiring model flying related assistance or advice, not to mention the several thousand Emails that arrive in the “electronic post-box” every week requiring a response that varies from a “one liner” to several pages and in depth research.
And it’s not just the office; there are a significant number of very dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers who give up their time to work on behalf of BMFA members for the future good of UK model flying.
In addition there is also much activity that takes place on an ongoing basis, such as liaison with the CAA and Ofcom, processing licenses for the use of MOD land, development of the BMFA Education programme and work to take model flying into schools, not to mention the planning for the various shows and events throughout the year where the BMFA have a presence in the form of a promotional and information stand.
Also of vital importance is the work with the BMFA brokers and insurers to maintain a viable and beneficial insurance scheme for BMFA members, as well as providing relevant benefits and a smooth claims handling and settlement process.
Of course, it should be borne in mind that the insurance provided to members is so much more that just numbers on a slip of paper, it is “assurance” that when you go out to fly you have the peace of mind of having appropriate levels of cover and the support of dedicated staff should you be involved in an incident or accident, it is without doubt the best “protection” package available to model flyers.
Clearly none of these things happen by “accident” and only succeed through constant monitoring, application and effort.
Additionally there is continuous liaison with a range of external bodies whose activities to varying degrees have a bearing on model flying, for example full size aviation organisations such as the Airspace Directorate, General Aviation Safety Council, the General Aviation Awareness Council, the Air Accident Investigation Branch, the UK Airprox Board and the Ministry of Defence/Defence Estates to name just a few.
Then of course there is the planning and work relating to BMFA organised events and competitions, culminating in the August power and Control Line Nationals that take place at Barkston Heath in Lincolnshire every late August Bank Holiday.
This event has become widely recognised as the largest model flying event in Europe and takes place on an active airfield which must be returned to service in readiness for use on the Tuesday morning, no mean feat in itself, and only accomplished through the dedicated hard work of a huge team of volunteers and staff.
This article could easily fill several pages, but as it stands represents a “snapshot” of the BMFA activity that it is taking place every week of the year to promote and protect model flying for the benefit of all model flyers.
Hopefully, the next time conversation at your club meeting or flying site raises the question “What does the BMFA do for us?” somebody will produce a copy of this article in order that those present will be a little better informed.
Manny Williamson: Development Officer BMFA
Andy Symons: Club Support Officer BMFA