By BRIAN WYNNE
Unmanned aerial systems (UAS), also known as remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) or drones, have grown in the past few years from a niche tool to a must-have holiday toy and business asset.
The increasing availability of this technology has led many new enthusiasts to take to the skies, sometimes in places where they shouldn’t be.
Newcomers to UAS technology are often excited to get their new systems off the ground. However, many of these users do not realize that just because the technology is easily acquired does not mean that it can be flown anywhere or for any purpose.
That’s why the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) and our partners founded “Know Before You Fly.”
This education campaign, cofounded with the Academy of Model Aeronautics, the Small UAV Coalition and in partnership with the FAA, works to provide users of UAS with the information and guidance they need to fly safely and responsibly.
Since the campaign’s launch, we have added more than a dozen new supporters, including two of the largest hobby distributors in the country and partners in the manned aircraft industry, such as the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and Airlines for America. These supporters are helping to get information about safe and responsible use of UAS into newcomers’ hands before they take to the sky.
Unfortunately, the current guidelines can be hard to acquire, and, if you do access it, it can be complicated to understand.
“Know Before You Fly” is helping to fill that gap by providing clear and detailed information on how to fly safely and responsibly. These guidelines include staying under 400 feet and not flying over people, moving vehicles or sensitive infrastructure. Safety measures, such as avoiding manned aircraft, may seem like common sense to many users. But others, such as contacting the airport or air traffic control before any UAS flights within five miles of an airport, are less known.
Commercial use of UAS, too, is rapidly growing. From farmers wanting to survey their fields to real estate agents hoping for aerial footage of a new listing, businesses across every sector are excited about UAS.
AUVSI’s economic impact study found that the U.S. could gain more than 100,000 jobs once UAS are integrated into the national airspace.
The FAA has proposed rules for the commercial use of UAS that are a good first step in ensuring the safety of the skies while bringing us closer to the many societal and economic benefits of UAS technology.
Regulations such as limiting UAS operation to below 500 feet and requiring commercial users to obtain an FAA UAS operator certification will ensure that whomever is flying, they are doing so safely and responsibly, mitigating risk to other aircraft and people and property on the ground.
As the FAA considers its rules for commercial operators, new research and technologies could make our skies even safer.
The FAA’s B4UFLY app for recreational users, which is currently under development, will provide geo-targeted information about the regulations in a specific area to determine whether or not a user’s flight meets the FAA requirements.
AUVSI will be one of the organizations testing the app to ensure that it is both accurate and easy to use, and we look forward to its rollout to the general public.
In addition to the B4UFLY app, the FAA has designated an academic UAS Center of Excellence and corporate partners to conduct research into different areas of UAS operations, such as beyond line of sight and extended line of sight operations.
These highly controlled research areas will provide key information about how we can reap the benefits of these operations — for example, in search and rescue missions — without putting the safety of the airspace at risk. The research that will be collected now will ensure that once UAS are integrated into the national airspace, the proper safety measures will already be in place.
Our more than 7,500 members are dedicated to the advancement of unmanned systems. AUVSI has seen firsthand the tremendous possibilities for using UAS in the fields of government, industry and academia. UAS have been used for various operations from spraying crops to delivering packages to responding to natural disasters, such as the recent Nepal earthquake.
As the excitement and enthusiasm for UAS continues to grow, it’s critical that we look to the future. Ongoing industry and government education and research efforts will help lay the groundwork for transformational uses of UAS while keeping the skies safe for all aircraft — both manned and unmanned.
Brian Wynne is the president and CEO of AUVSI.