FAA launches safety education program for new UAV operators

By Patrick C. Miller | December 22, 2014

In anticipation of many receiving small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) as gifts over the holidays, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and three other organizations announced a program to educate new UAV pilots on the rules of the sky.

Called “Know Before You Fly,” the program provides prospective operators with the information and guidance they need to fly safely and responsibly. It’s being coordinated by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, Academy of Model Aeronautics and the Small UAV Coalition in partnership with the FAA.

“The three groups and the FAA all have the same goal, and that is we want everybody to have fun with the unmanned aircraft they get for the holidays,” said FAA spokesperson Les Dorr. “But they also need to fly safely, and they need to obey the law for model aircraft.”

According to AUVSI, the ease of acquiring UAS technology has led to a proliferation of unmanned flights, some of which are unauthorized. The organization said well-meaning individuals and prospective business operators want to fly and fly safely, but don’t realize that just because they can buy a UAS, it doesn’t mean they can fly it anywhere or for any purpose.

“There is a lot of excitement and enthusiasm around UAS, and the technology is becoming the must-have holiday gift,” said Michael Toscano, AUVSI president and CEO. “The ‘Know Before You Fly’ campaign fills a critical education gap just in time for the holiday season. We want to ensure that all prospective operators have the tools they need to fly safely and responsibly.”

Bob Brown, AMA president, said the association’s members have been flying model aircraft safely for nearly 80 years and want to share their expertise with people new to the technology.

“Our 175,000 members are intimately familiar with our safety code, which we take very seriously, but not everyone who buys an unmanned aircraft knows what he or she should and should not do,” Brown said. “Flying model aircraft is a fun and educational experience. We want to ensure it’s done as safely as possible.”

The campaign includes a website, educational video, point-of-sale materials and a digital and social media campaign to ensure that prospective operators have the information and guidance on what they need to know before they fly a UAS.

“Often people who purchase UAS for recreational use in stores or online are unaware of the existing safety guidelines,” said Michael Drobac of the Small UAV Coalition. “Our hope is that this campaign will make that information more accessible to the legions of flyers taking to the skies, ensuring safety for all aircraft, both manned and unmanned.”

Dorr said Section 336 of the 2012 FAA Reauthorization Act specifies that for a UAV to be flown as a model aircraft, it must be operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community based organization.

“One such organization would be the AMA—the Academy of Model Aeronautics—and they have their own safety code,” he said. “If you look at the AMA safety code, that is a good example of the things that people are supposed to be doing.”

Dorr cautioned that the FAA can get involved if UAVs are being flown unsafely or for unauthorized commercial flights.

“If someone is operating a model aircraft or if it’s some other unauthorized use, we have authority to take enforcement action against anyone who endangers the safety of other aircraft or people or property on the ground,” he explained.