Ladies and Gentlemen, they are coming. Drones (or however you want to refer to pilotless aircraft) are slowly being integrated into the National Air Traffic System. Before anyone starts panicking, let’s take a breath and analyze what this means to the safety of air travel.
Many probably have not thought about it, but we have already been around small flying objects for years in the form of birds. Although they can be considered piloted by a reasonably intelligent brain, they do not know the rules of the air, hence the occasional intimate encounter with our feathered friends (Miracle on the Hudson, anybody?). So, we already have an idea of what happens should an impact occur. Very rarely does loss of life occur, but damages obviously result.
So, what is the solution? Establishing a plan of action, of course. The DOT secretary has recently announced a notice of proposed rulemaking to establish some rules. This is a step in the right direction. Those of you have been reading my articles for any length of time may have detected the theme of less government intrusion. In this case, however, the government is in the best position to promulgate common ground in the realm of safety.
The proposed rule includes the following: the drone must remain in line of sight of the operator(s),and it must not endanger persons or property on the ground. The drone is given speed, altitude, and weather restrictions, operators must go through official testing and certification, and the drone must meet the standards of an official “aircraft” as recently defined in a decision by the National Transportation Safety Board. If the drone is treated as an “official aircraft”, then it and its operator are subject to the requirements of the code of federal regulations governing flight in U.S. airspace.
Some of these requirements may sound a bit onerous, but they are actually very similar to private pilot requirements and parallel the knowledge that both private and professional pilots must have. Although I dislike unnecessary government control over our lives, I dislike ignorant operating and disregard for the fun and safety of everyone even less. Now, with this proposed rule, we have a developing avenue for understanding and safety.
The model aircraft community, overseen by the Academy of Model Aeronautics, has been instrumental in maintaining proficiency and safety for many years. The majority of its members enjoy flying their craft within the boundaries of what is safe for everyone. This new rule will now encompass all of the other ill informed and untrained individuals and companies who want to fly unmanned aircraft for various reasons.