The state of the UAS sector, according to episodic reports from knowledgeable sources, is precarious.
The contrary view is often published and publicized:
- Drones are being sold at record rates and the future forecast is exponential;
- The FAA is issuing §333 exemptions at a furious pace, over 1,500 by recent count;
- Companies are offering UAS services, with or without §333 authority, for anything (aerial surveillance, photography, powerlines, real estate, etc.) and anywhere;
- All clear indications are that the UAS economic activity, the prime mantra of AUVSI, is robust.
So why to worry?
Safety and an industry ethic of voluntary compliance with the FAA rules are not prominent in these UAS flights. Some of the failure to follow the FAA’s strictures may be attributable to simple ignorance (very much true in the recreational sector), but there appears to be a heavy proportion of unconscious neglect. What has been reported about the common attitude is reflected by these exemplary “quotes”:
- Recreational pilots—“I did not know…”
- …that I was that close to an airport
- … that my drone was above 400’
- …that the winds were too high
- …that flying over a high school football game’s stands is a problem
- …that the rules applied to me
- 333 pilots…
- “The client’s powerlines were more than 200’; so I had to meet the contract”
- “Yeah, I knew that I was supposed to have a visual observe, but I’ve been flying drones for years”
- “Any way an added guy is too expensive”
- “My boss has a PPL, but he’s busy back at the office”
- “I was supposed to read the NOTAMS about each site?”
- “I have my §333; yes it says that I am allowed to do photography, but I thought that I could do surveillance of a cellular tower”
- “All of my work is in urban areas; so there will always be people around who are not involved in my operations”
- “My §333 mentioned that my drone was going to do XYZ and it was granted. I did not know that the manufacturer’s warranty specifically precludes its operation near…”
- “Why worry, the FAA can’t be everywhere; so there’s no chance that I’m going to get caught”
These hypothetical quotes can be heard out in the field. The collective attitude in the real world is not conducive to aviation safety. Some drone pilots think that they know better and that the FAA approach is too narrow (an opinion frequently expressed on drone blogs).
That is a state which defines “precarious.”
The FAA has effectively, and recently increasingly effectively, regulated all forms of aviation safety. The underlying foundation for this success is that 99.9% of the women, men and companies who hold FAA certificates intend to meet or exceed the regulations all of the time and in everything they do. Call it voluntary compliance or safety culture or today’s current term, SMS; they all translate to a system in which all of the participants know the specifics of and want to comply with the FARs.
Ignorance and benign neglect are no excuses.
The FAA can and has shouted requests to follow the rules. They, along with industry, have tried to educate the public about the proper UAS practices. They might even initiate some high visibility enforcement case. These are good initiatives, but they may not reach those who place reliance on their personal sense of safety than the FAA’s expertise.
As noted before, in addition to regulatory mechanisms, there may be commercial mechanisms which could cure this problem more expeditiously. The companies, which operate beyond the limits of their §333 authorities, should have their damage claims denied by their insurance carriers. It may be that some of the current drone companies do not have adequate or any coverage. Greater leverage would exist at the next level of claims, when the company which contracts for the UAS service requests payment for damage incurred by the drone operator. The claims adjust may deny it.
Assume that a power company hired a company without a §333 exemption or flying beyond the technical limits of its drone; the UAS collides with a power line and electricity to a city is cut off. If the insurance company does not pay for the damages incurred by the power outage, a clarion message to all drone operators and their contractors would be sent.
The state of the drone nation compliance disposition is not strong. Multiple initiatives may be needed to avoid a major setback.Share this article: