Registration Hits a Milestone
Another holiday season has passed. Like many other families, we are beginning to find the cookies we had hidden from the kids and we are throwing them away, lest we eat the sugar we so readily deny our children. Students are back at school, wondering if they can hold their breath until Spring Break, that wonderful time out of the clutches of school when they can get out in the warming air and play with their brand new present. That’s right, folks; it’s drone season.
If you don’t already own a drone yourself or haven’t bought one for another person, you are one of the few. Challenge yourself to test those waters by picking one day this week and asking each person you interact with if they have ever flown a drone. Chances are that if they haven’t, they have an anecdote to share about someone in their lives that has. It is obvious that drones are becoming ubiquitous both in commercial aspects and as flying cameras for both hobbyist photographers and RC enthusiasts. This is why the briefing released by the Department of Transportation yesterday, touting the landmark of one million drones being registered, is both exhilarating and frightening.
It is fantastic that so many small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) have been registered with the FAA and the DOT. What a great landmark number. It shows that many people are taking the responsible action of following federal regulations on the use of these flying machines in the National Airspace System. The frightening part is that in 2016 alone, over 2.4 million drones were sold, doubling the number from the year before. We do not even have the numbers from 2017 yet, but we do know that consumer spending this holiday was up and there have been stories all year about the wonderful world of drone.
This creates a dilemma that needs rectification. If we have well over three million remote flying machines in the sky and only one million of them registered, what is the excuse for the other two million? A decent number can be chalked up to vehicles weighing less than the registration requirement. Some of the remainder can be given to blatant scofflaw mentalities, but most can be drummed up to simply not knowing the regulation which surrounds a piece of equipment purchased off of a shelf in the electronics or big box store, wrapped in pretty paper, and offered in the same manner as any other toy. With vehicles so easy to fly straight out of the box, is it any wonder people don’t make it past the quick start guide to understand the rights and responsibilities taken on when putting these vehicles into the sky?
This should cause us to pause a moment. If people are unaware of the simple fact that all sUAS over .55 pounds must be registered, we must also assume they do not know where they can fly beyond what their mobile app tells them. We must assume they do not know or care about altitude limits, right of way, line of sight regulations, or even privacy considerations. To understand the serious consequences that a lack of knowledge can lead to, we only need to remember the damage caused to military aircraft by a drone flying far beyond line of sight and too high in altitude. Not only were those two situations completely avoidable with proper education, but the pilot would have also known to check local NOTAM and TFR information before flying and would have known that a Temporary Flight Restriction was in place due to UN General Assembly activities in the area.
With poor flight decisions being made by what often end up being hobbyist operators, it becomes even more difficult to convince civilians and regulators that a responsible flight community is possible. A positive aspect is that more and more operators are choosing to study and earn their FAA part 107 remote operator license, which enables those operators to fly their drones commercially. In order to earn said operator certificate, perspective drone pilots must pass the Part 107 knowledge exam and be able to hold a driver’s license. The latest numbers we can find on the amount of licensed operators are from FAA administrator, Michael Huerta’s speech at the “Interdrone” conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, in September. Huerta stated that at that time, 79,000 operators were flying under FAA Part 107 licenses. If we even assume that ten thousand more earned their license each month since that statement, then we can make the prediction that there are just under 110,000 operators in the National Airspace System that have the most basic knowledge of airspace, regulation, safety hazards, NOTAMs, TFRs, and basic chart-reading skills. That is also a grand assumption as many of those license holders were able to pass the test after utilizing a twenty-dollar smartphone cram application and it falls far short of a million registered aircraft.
The smartphone-trained pilot is part of what led Alaska Aerial Media to pair with educators and engineers to build the curriculum at Advanced Aerial Education (AAE) and build the industry and professional support for their sUAS pilot certification and licensing preparation. AAE has always believed that operators with their certification not only meet the requirements of the FAA, but far surpass those requirements to ensure a responsible, self-regulating flight community. Now, after the numbers were released over this last year, it is clear that certification training is imperative for more than the commercial operator, but that all operators should have the education and systems offered by AAE to ensure that both hobbyist and commercial operators can skillfully and responsibly navigate a National Airspace System utilized by hundreds of thousands of large manned aircraft and millions of small unmanned aircraft. Our graduates and our instructors are the very best of sUAS operators in the country and we are proud of their knowledge, their skill, and their will to always inform and lead the way to safer skies.
Today, we celebrate that not only are our certificate holders counted in the registration numbers released yesterday, but that hundreds of students nationwide are currently training with AAE certified instructors to continue building a network of qualified, trained, and employable operators and responsible hobbyist operators who simply love to fly.