Magazine article National Defense

Industry Rallies Behind Push to Promote Drone Safety

Magazine article National Defense

Industry Rallies Behind Push to Promote Drone Safety

Article excerpt

* When a DJI Phantom drone crashed into the lawn of the White House in February, it highlighted what some fear may be a trend of unmanned aerial vehicle-related accidents.

A number of these incidents have been blamed on reckless operators. In the White House crash, the pilot was intoxicated and lost control of the UAV.

It's that type of "inappropriate" behavior that many in the aviation industry want to stop, and believe they can alleviate through educational initiatives.

Earlier this year, the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International spearheaded an effort along with the Academy of Model Aeronautics and the Small UAV Coalition to better inform unmanned aerial system operators of how to fly drones responsibly.

The "Know Before You Fly" campaign was launched in late November and has since been making strides in putting the word out about safe UAV operation, said AUVSI president and CEO Brian Wynne.

"It has been a very important initiative for the community because there are a lot of folks...that are flying UAS that are not aviation people," Wynne said.

"They need to be given a slightly better awareness of the fact that above them is airspace that may be restricted or might be prohibited and we want to make sure they are flying in the right place and they are flying responsibly."

Better educating users will be critical to stymieing irresponsible flying. Often, Wynne said, users are unaware that they are doing anything wrong. That's why the campaign reached out to various UAV manufacturers and convinced them to include specially prepared literature that lays out the do's and don'ts of UAV safety in their packaging.

"They're putting the materials that we've made available in their boxes now. So ultimately folks will read that information and educate themselves or not, but we want to make sure that the information is conveniently made available to them," he said.

The number of high profile crashes throughout the United States indicates that users are not being properly educated, he noted.

While it is too soon to say if the campaign has directly mitigated any crashes, Wynne said it has received widespread support. "Literally the entire aviation community is getting behind this campaign and for very good reason," he said.

While the associations and groups involved with the campaign genuinely want to see safe operations, they do have a vested interest, said Rich Hanson, director of government and regulatory affairs at the Academy of Model Aeronautics. A few rotten apples can make the whole community look bad, potentially souring efforts to streamline UAV integration in the national airspace, he noted.

"We certainly...have a self-interest issue here, too," he said. If "there is public perception that these devices are hazardous and they're causing problems within the community, we believe that reflects poorly on our established community that has been around for decades."

Hanson noted that model aircraft pilots have operated "harmoniously" and transparently within the national airspace for decades because users have historically been aware of safety issues.

That has changed recently. New users can lack a proper understanding of safety measures because they approach the hobby differently than prior generations, Hanson said. Previously, when a person decided he or she wanted to fly model aircraft--which is how the FAA classifies small drones used recreationally --operators often went to a local hobby shop or an AMA club to learn the ropes, he noted. Through a peer and mentor process, they learned safe practices.

Now, users are buying the systems from big box stores or online and not receiving any formal education, he said. 'We realized that we needed a different means of reaching out to this individual and getting the information to them."

Distributing this information is critical to combating irresponsible flying, Hanson said. …

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