Days before tens of thousands of consumers are expected to unwrap small unmanned aircraft systems on Christmas morning, the Federal Aviation Administration and several UAS and model aircraft organizations have launched a drone safety campaign.
“This technology is very accessible and in very high demand, but information about how to fly safely is not that readily available,” Michael Toscano, retiring president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), said on a media call with other UAS industry representatives and FAA. “That’s why we’ve created this campaign, to provide prospective users of unmanned aircraft, or drones, with information and guidelines that will help them fly in a safe and responsible way.”
The campaign, Know Before You Fly, aims to increase awareness of UAS operation rules and regulations. It is centered around a website and complemented by social media and physical educational pamphlets that will be handed out in the new year at the Consumer Electronics Show and the Academy of Model Aeronautics January expo. The founders are also working with manufacturers to get informational literature included in packaging for UAS.
In addition to AUVSI, the Small UAV Coalition and the Academy of Model Aeronautics are co-founding organizations in the safety campaign. FAA is a partner.
“Our organization exists to advance modeling as a hobby and to do so in the safest possible manner,” Bob Brown, president of the Academy of Model Aeronautics, said on the call. “Flying models is an enjoyable and educational hobby. We are ready to help this new community learn how to fly safe.”
Michael Drobac, the executive director of the Small UAV Coalition, said the coalition’s partners, like Amazon, GoPro and Google, recognize that with recreational use, safety is the most important factor.
The overwhelming majority of UAS and drones are [being operated] safely, but we also know there are rogue actors out there, or there are some that are not aware of the existing laws and rules, so a campaign like this is crucial,” Drobac said.
Drobac said that as technology continues to evolve, it makes recreational or consumer users’ lives more interesting and fun, but safety does remain a concern.
“We always say that technology always wins, and so, with that in mind, let’s let technology win, but do so under the umbrella of safety and proper education,” Drobac said.
The safety campaign’s launch comes around the same time that many predicted FAA would announce its notice of proposed rule-making for commercial use of small UAS; however, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta continued to emphasize safety as more important than meeting a congressionally mandated integration deadline.
“We want consumers to have fun with their unmanned aircraft, but we also want them to follow best practices for safety,” Huerta said.
Huerta explained the current rules for recreational users, which require that a drone not fly above 400 feet, that it be flown within the line of sight, that it’s not operated near people or crowds and that it’s not flown within five miles of an airport without notifying air traffic controllers.
Huerta would not confirm whether the notice of proposed rule-making would come by the end of 2014.
“We’re working very closely with our administration colleagues, and we’re very focused on getting it out as quickly as we can,” Huerta said. “It’s a very complicated rule, as you know, and the most important thing is that we want to get it right, but we’re very focused on getting it out quickly.”
The members on the call had varying opinions on how and when FAA should integrate drones into the national airspace, but Huerta said the group did agree on safety.
“Everyone on this call is in 100 percent agreement on safety,” Huerta said. “We want to make sure everyone understands what the rules are, what the regulations are, and that they know before they fly.”