Safety: Rise of the Drones: Sharing the Sky Safely is Everyone's Responsibility

For the past 80 years AOPA has been the leading defender of general aviation and our freedom to fly. One of the most important ways that is done is through programs to help pilots fly safer.

The biggest change in aviation in recent years is the rise of the drone. In 2018, the latest data available from the FAA, there were more than 630,000 licensed pilots in the United States and more than 106,000 remote pilots flying drones either commercially or recreationally.

What’s remarkable about that number is the FAA’s small drone rule went into effect on August 29, 2016. That’s a lot of pilots in a little more than two years. Even more remarkable is the fact that the as of January 2018 there were more than 1 million registered drones in the U.S.

These numbers are staggering considering the FAA has only required registration and licensing of drones for a little more than two years. And the numbers are only expected to grow – which is good for aviation.

Most pilots know that AOPA has hundreds of thousands of manned aircraft pilots as members. However, you might not realize AOPA also has tens of thousands of UAS pilots that are members, making it one of the world’s largest organizations of unmanned aircraft pilots as well. AOPA’s advocacy for the freedom to fly is for all types of aviation.

What does this mean for flying clubs?

How does this effect flying clubs and what does this all mean for clubs and pilots of fixed-wing aircraft? We must be aware of drones and how and where they can fly. Safety is everyone’s responsibility and increasing our understanding of drones – whether or not we fly unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) – will only help in the long run.

One of the best things about being a member of a club is the ability to easily share knowledge and learn from our fellow members, particularly through regular safety meetings. There is a natural overlap between pilots flying manned or unmanned aircraft – whether it’s understanding airspace, or simply the mindset and approach of how a pilot prepares for and conducts a flight. No matter what you’re flying, you need to check weather, equipment, follow checklists, manage risk, be prepared for emergencies and see and avoid other aircraft and obstacles.

At your club’s next safety meeting, consider talking about drones and how manned pilots can do their part to safely integrate with drones. A concern that is often raised among manned pilots is what if a drone is operating outside of its airspace limitations? The FAA has a hotline to report these incidents, as well as other aviation incidents.

Like AOPA’s Flying Club Resources, AOPA also has several Drone resources. There is a free bi-weekly newsletter, AOPA Drone Pilot, created as part of AOPA’s effort to promote safety and education for all airspace users, including drone pilots. It provides information about the latest technology, safety recommendations, and news tailored for the drone community.

Two articles of that may be of particular interest to pilots, whether they are part of a club or not, are “AOPA Urges Safe Drone Integration, Freedom to Fly” about  efforts to address safe drone integration as the FAA develops regulations for Part 107, the section of the FAR that covers unmanned aircraft; and another article, “Fly It Like You Ride It” that looks at risk management and the overlap between flying manned and unmanned aircraft.

Another resource is a series of 1-minute videos with simple safety tips to consider. While they are made for drone pilots, the tips apply to flying manned aircraft as well.

As the use of drones becomes more popular, it is in all pilots’ interest to learn and understand both the world of manned and unmanned flying. Being part of a club, with a strong safety culture and regular safety meetings, provides a great opportunity to share knowledge and experience with members to help make us all safer pilots – no matter what we fly.

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