The media has made it abundantly clear that drones are posing a threat to public safety. There have been a surprisingly large number of near misses between UASs and aircraft. The FAA has issued a strong warning to operators who are imperiling safety and putting this young industry’s reputation at risk. It is important that the industry, particularly the associations, supports a hardline approach to violations. The two articles, linked below, send a mixed message and that may not help.
In response to the rash of drone incidents, AUVSI’s President & CEO Brian Wynne issued the following hard words:
“AUVSI supports stricter enforcement of careless and reckless operators and those who violate restricted airspace. Stricter enforcement will not only punish irresponsible operators, it will also serve as a deterrent to others who may misuse the technology. The FAA currently has the authority to levy hefty civil penalties.”
That’s the sort of warning which might encourage the maverick drone pilots to become fully self-compliant. The FAA does not have the staff to effectively surveil the UAS industry and without some sort of self-regulating behavior by these pilots, the safety of UASs could become a major problem.
Within the same press release, AUVSI reverts to its advocacy “uber alles” mode and attacked the FAA for its failure to issue NOW the pending Part 107:
“…the FAA needs to finalize its small UAS rules, which would require all UAS operators to follow the safety programming of a community-based organization or abide by new UAS rules for commercial operators. Once the rules are finalized, consumers will no longer be able to fly without any oversight or education.”
Perhaps, the association does not recognize that its language can be read by the average person to say that drone pilots have no rules to which they must adhere and thus absolving their past and future irresponsible UAS flying. PR language like the above quotes may work well on the Hill, but not in a community of primarily novice pilots. One would NEVER see such internally inconsistent guidance from AOPA or NBAA. Their messages to their members are always crystal on matters of safety.
The second link is another example of AUVSI’s insistence on pushing its expand-at-all-costs mantra. The text begins with a laudatory sentiment, commending the FAA for its approval of “expanded operations in the area that will allow for night flight tests throughout the state.” That positive note about the FAA’s issuance of a nighttime CoA for Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site was all that needed to be stated. After that Ying, the association had to add its aggressive, critical Yang:
“The limitation on nighttime operations should be removed to align better with risk, as has been done in countries such as New Zealand. Many SUAS have lights that make them highly visible at night and operations in controlled settings make SUAS essential assets at night. For example, SUAS have been used in Australia to help fight wildfires at night when manned operations cannot continue.”
Aside from the irrelevancy of experience of two countries with fractions of the US aviation activity, the association’s conclusion, that night flights are OK, assumes that the AUVSI’s safety analysis of risk trumps the numbers upon which the FAA and its government/industry Advisory and Rulemaking Committee on UASs have relied.
To compound the potentially dangerous maverick drone situation, the association’s preemptory condemnation of the FAA’s night time UAS ban will again send a message to the pilots with a false justification (“align better with risk”) for continuing nigh time flights. Essentially the press release can and will be interpreted by the fliers as telling them that they can ignore the FAA’s night time ban.
AUVSI has filled an important need; its members need a voice in Washington. Clearly its lobbying forced the FAA to issue its NPRM on UAS earlier than the “bureaucrats,” charged with aviation safety, would have liked. However, trade associations for all industries have a tradition, if not responsibility, to communicate to its Members the laws applicable to their business/personal hobby.
Clearly, AUVSI is comfortable with its advocacy role, but it appears that it cannot differentiate between that function and its role of advising its audience about safety practices. Its mixed messages signals to the drone pilot nation that ignoring the FAA rules is OK.