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News & Notes

The FAA's Plea to Drone Pilots: Fly Safe

Only you can prevent crashes

May 2, 2017

The FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) and the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Advisory Board (UASAB) hosted a safety presentation in Madison, Wisconsin, last week, which focused heavily on promoting flying safely and compliantly.

UASAB is a non-profit organization that promises to provide advocacy, networking, education, and outreach opportunities for drone fliers. Organizers hope that education and outreach will help prevent inexperienced drone pilots from taking dangerous risks when flying.

“The problem is that consumers can purchase drones online and at big-box stores including Best Buy and Apple,” says Chris Johnson, president of UASAB. “But at the same time, these drones do not come with how-to manuals on how to operate responsibly within the National Airspace System.”
"Don’t let anyone say you aren’t a real pilot. You are considered a pilot by the FAA when you are operating an aircraft in the NAS."
Please don’t crash

In addition to practical flying advice, one of the big takeaways from the evening is that drone pilots must consider public opinion when flying risky operations. Keep in mind that even a false report of a drone-related crash like the one in Sedona, Arizona, can generate a lot of negative publicity.

“In that case, investigators examined the evidence and found no indication of any collision with an object,” says Kevin Morris, FAASTeam program manager for the Great Lakes region. “Do you think [news organizations] changed their splash page? No way. Nobody is going to click on a boring story. This is why we have to be safe in everything we do.”

The FAA also cautions drone operators to be aware that the definition of commercial drone use is broad. Even if an operator is flying just to advertise their services or demonstrating a UAS for a potential customer, that flight is regulated as a commercial drone flight. And more importantly, Morris encourages drone fliers to take their roles seriously.

“I’m sure people have told you, ‘remote pilots aren’t real pilots,’” says Morris. “Yes you are. Don’t let anyone say you aren’t a real pilot. You are considered a pilot by the FAA when you are operating an aircraft in the NAS. You just fly different aircraft than other pilots.”

OK, but how do you know if you're flying safely? Aeronautical Decision-Making (ADM) is the FAA’s framework for safe flying, which Morris calls a “common sense approach” to flying drones. To illustrate the ADM, he presented a number of scenarios regarding flying in adverse conditions. While there are important things to consider when flying, there are no hard and fast rules about when it is safe to fly. In many cases, drone pilots are going to have to make judgement calls.

“I can’t sit here and tell you if any job is worth the risk for a given dollar amount,” he says. “I wish there was an easy answer, but it just isn’t always the case.”
Kevin Morris, FAASTeam program manager for the Great Lakes region, wants drone operators to know they are real pilots and to fly safely. UASAB/Tammy L. Chatman
Frustration with the FAA

Though primarily an informational event, there was frustration with FAA implementation of drone regulations. Immediately before the safety presentation, the UASAB held a board meeting, at which commercial drone operators noted that the approval process for Part 107 waivers is long, complex, and opaque.

“I just want the FAA to let us know what the rules are,” says one attendee. “They tell you to put your best foot forward, and we’ll tell you yes or no. But then submit your request on the website and then when you finally get a response, they say no, and you don’t really know why.”

FAA representatives acknowledged the issues, especially around requests for airspace authorization. “I understand that is what most of you hate, and all I can say is that we are trying to get better,” Morris says.
The future is in your hands

The FAA admits it lacks funds to fully implement new drone regulations and programs. That means that in the short term, the industry and professional drone fliers must be willing to self-regulate and self-police. And Morris emphasizes that the success of drone regulation and the industry begins with safe pilots.

“There will be new regulations if you go out there and crash into things and hurt people. I guarantee that Congress will get excited, and when Congress gets excited, they make new rules,” says Morris. “If you hit something with your UAS and it’s known by more than one person, I guarantee it will make the news.”
Featured image: UASAB/Tammy L. Chatman