From the shelves of convenience stores, to viral videos, package delivery and the news, drones seem to be everywhere these days. While it’s tempting to think of these small, remotely controlled aircraft as gadgets or toys, they constitute an important and rapidly growing segment of general aviation.
To operate a small non-commercial Unmanned Aircraft System does not require a pilot certificate—which could make it a great way to get non-pilots involved with the club—but flying them isn’t a free-for-all. Drones operate in the National Airspace System, just like airplanes, and breaking the rules can affect safety. Serious violations can even potentially affect existing fixed-wing pilot certificates.
That being said, drone rules are fairly straightforward and when followed in conjunction with good judgment, violations will be simple to avoid. Here are a few key rules for recreational drone use (from a longer list):
Avoiding careless and reckless operation is largely up to good judgment, which some naturally seem to have in spades and others, to entirely lack, but it can be learned and taught. Always err on the side of caution—the main goals should be to avoid damage to people and property on the ground and in the air. The UAS world is constantly evolving, so expect the FAA’s rules regarding drone operations to evolve as well.
Operating a drone safely sometimes requires a team, which can make drone flying a great club activity. Beyond the pilot, a pilot assistant, camera operator (if you’re taking photos), and flight path observer can all help reduce a drone pilot’s workload and ensure safety of flight. On the other hand, without a plan and good communication, having more people involved in a flight can needlessly complicate an otherwise straightforward mission. After each flight as a crew, debrief what worked and what didn’t, and learn together how best to operate drones at your club.
Like everything in aviation, the safest drone flying requires proficiency. Keep your drone flying skills sharp as you would with your stick-and-rudder skills in an airplane. With one more aircraft in the club’s fleet, you’ll hopefully entice more members and interest more people in aviation—which is a win all around.
Drones and the GA Community: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbUdchHSPg4
AOPA Guide to Remote Pilot Certification: https://www.aopa.org/go-fly/aircraft-and-ownership/drones/guide-to-remote-pilot-certification