There are multiple daily media reports of unmanned aircraft systems flying near aircraft and operating dangerously. The number of sightings grows almost exponentially as the number of UAS are purchased by hobbyists and commercial enterprises. These two recent(1) articles(2) about incursions with commercial aircraft flag how UAS operators are not following the FAA safety rules.
The onus remains on the FAA to take action by making new FAA UAS regulations effective immediately and enforcing them in a high profiles cases to bring their message to the UAS operators, will help address the problem. Well maybe – the proposed regulations propose guidelines and requirements that commercial operators will follow, especially if they want to stay in business and provide services for their clients. The biggest concern IS that hobbyists and some “commercial” operators will ignore or flaunt the regulations, once they are promulgated.
At a recent small business trade show held at a military installation there was a UAS vendor marketing his services. He was asked about when his business obtained an FAA §333 Exemption to operate his UAS. His answer, almost proudly stated, was that he did not need a §333 Exemption (wrong) and that his company was already providing commercial services to utilities and other customers on drone flights operating up to 2500’. “The FAA does not have enough resources to oversee and manage every UAS operator now and it certainly won’t get better, so I see no reason to submit a §333 Exemption.” This cavalier attitude seems to be very prevalent as evidenced by the growing number of UAS sightings near airports and emergency events.
We know that the FAA is processing new UAS regulations and they are also ramping up awareness through education and training. But considering that the number of UAS users is estimated, by some resources to grow to 700,000 in the next decade, more needs to be done now:
- Start collecting UAS event data now. Every UAS encounter should be recorded and saved in a central data base. Without event data it is real hard to perform a safety risk analysis and associated mitigations. This is a basic premise of Safety Management System (SMS) that the FAA needs to employ now.
- Create and establish industry UAS operator/owner standards that can be adopted and required by Insurance underwriters. (Operators may think that they can avoid the FAA, but no rational businessperson will risk massive damages. The insurance sector can impose exclusions in their coverage if UAS flights do not meet FARs. The insurance industry can establish discounts from the general drone rates for operators which meet higher standards.)
- Establish a requirement to register every UAS in the US with the FAA. Registration data should include owner name, contact information, UAS type, model number and use. If the UAS is sold, owner must inform FAA and UAS must be registered by new owner. (This requirement might include installation of a low cost element, like a Radio Frequency Identifier Chip [RFID]) by the UAS manufacturer, with the RFID frequency and serial number be provided to the FAA.
- Establish a UAS certification program for commercial and recreation users stipulating operating, education and training requirements both initial and recurrent.
- Require proof of insurance coverage much like is currently done for vehicles. (Individual States could manage 4 and 5 above generating a new revenue source for their State coffers.)
- Since it is clear that the FAA resources are being stretched to surveil UAS flights because the drones are ubiquitous and their operations fit none of the seines by which FAA traditional regulatory regime captures traditional illegal operations. Perhaps, repeat perhaps, Congress could authorize the collection of commercial “licenses” and those funds could be used to supplement the FAA inspectors devoted to drone regulations.
If something is not done soon a serious accident will take place and no doubt there will be the common reactive commentary asking why we did not do something sooner.
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