International Airport Review: Drones: Campaigning for Safer Skies

August 25 – Brian Wynne, the President and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) discusses in an exclusive two-part report in International Airport Review the importance of safety and regulation when it comes to the exploding phenomenon of drones and their increasing democratisation into the public sphere:

With drone sales in the U.S. nearing one million in 2015, unmanned aircraft systems are currently a huge topic for the aviation industry. Brian Wynne, President and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, provides an overview of the ‘Know Before You Fly’ campaign, which aims to promote safer skies.

There is a lot of enthusiasm and excitement around unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), more commonly known as drones. As this technology has grown from a niche tool to a highly sought-after business asset and a must-have holiday gift, more and more people are taking to the skies for the first time.

Newcomers to unmanned systems are often eager to get their new aircraft off the ground. However, many new flyers do not realise that even though the platforms can be easily acquired, they cannot be flown everywhere or for any purpose. Today, businesses that want to fly have to navigate an ever-evolving regulatory landscape. Furthermore, the guidelines governing recreational flights can be difficult to find and understand, especially for non-aviators.

As the UAS industry expands, it is important to ensure that everyone who wants to fly knows how to do so safely and responsibly. For this reason the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) initiated ‘Know Before You Fly’ in December 2014. This education campaign, co-founded with theAcademy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) and in partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), works to provide UAS users with easy-to-follow, essential safety information. Education is key to creating a culture of safety around UAS, which will help deter careless and reckless behaviour. The primary goal of the campaign is to ensure that this vital safety information is getting directly to people who are flying unmanned systems.

The nexus of the campaign is the Know Before You Fly website. Among the information on the site is an interactive quiz for drone users to test their knowledge of UAS operational guidelines. The website also features downloadable safety fliers and brochures that can be easily shared by manufacturers, distributors, retailers, schools, UAS training programmes and other organisations. Know Before You Fly has also utilised video contributions focusing on UAS safety from celebrities such as comedian Jeff Dunham – a self-professed ‘tech geek’ – and San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid. In May 2016 the campaign reached a major milestone when the website surpassed 500,000 unique visitors. With projections of 700,000 to one million drones sold in the U.S. in 2015, the robust traffic to Know Before You Fly indicates that the campaign is potentially reaching the majority of recreational users who are currently flying.

While the website serves as a one-stop shop for safety information, the campaign involves much more. Notably, around 100 supporters play an invaluable role in amplifying educational efforts and informing the public by spreading the word about safe and responsible UAS use.

The FAA’s free B4UFLY app provides situational awareness to UAS operators, using their GPS locations to pull up flight restrictions and other alerts about the nearby airspace.

Know Before You Fly’s supporters include manufacturers and distributors of UAS technology, as well as unmanned and manned aviation groups, trade associations, universities and state and local governments. Of the campaign’s supporters, 28 manufacturers and retailers have committed to promoting safety messages directly inside the packaging of UAS products and/or at point-of-sale when customers purchase UAS in stores or online.

For instance, the world’s largest drone manufacturer, DJI, now distributes the campaign’s safety brochures inside the packaging of all its U.S.-bound Phantom 3 and Inspire 1 UAS product series. Safety brochures started appearing in U.S. consumer boxes in December 2015, just in time for the holidays. As a major player in the U.S. drone market, DJI’s participation in the campaign has helped Know Before You Fly reach many UAS operators before they take to the skies.

Additionally, two of the world’s largest retailers, Amazon and Walmart, have committed support to Know Before You Fly. Amazon opened the ‘Fly Responsibly Drone Store’ and links to the campaign’s materials on Meanwhile, Walmart is promoting Know Before You Fly safety information on its store shelves where drones are sold. Additionally, a link to the campaign website is included on receipts for UAS that are purchased both in stores and online.

A number of hobby retailers and distributors have also joined the effort to educate people who are interested in operating UAS safely. For example, the retailer and distributor Hobby People has committed to displaying Know Before You Fly brochures at the registers in all of its 18 stores in Southern California and Nevada. The company’s employees were also trained to answer questions about Know Before You Fly safety guidelines from customers purchasing UAS products.

The FAA has also been reaching UAS users directly via their smartphones and tablets. The FAA’s free B4UFLY app provides situational awareness to UAS operators, using their GPS locations to pull up flight restrictions and other alerts about the nearby airspace. The app provides a status indicator that tells users ‘Proceed with Caution’, ‘Warning – Action Required’ or ‘Flight Prohibited’ in flying areas. The app also features maps with geo-targeted information and a planner mode that allows users to select a time and location for an upcoming flight and determine if there will be any restrictions in place at a future time.

The educational and public awareness efforts as discussed in part one of the report are important because, while some guidelines seem like common sense, others are less intuitive. For example, many users do not know that they have to notify an airport authority and air traffic control before flying an unmanned aircraft within five miles of an airport. Similarly, many recreational operators may not be aware that they should fly their UAS (Drones) no higher than 400 feet, or that they must keep their drones within visual line of sight. New users may also be ignorant of other necessary procedures, such as checking for temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) before taking to the skies to ensure they are not interfering with stadium events, wildfires and other temporary airspace restrictions.

Indeed, while sporting events with large groups of people may seem like an ideal opportunity to test out a new drones and get a bird’s eye view, the FAA typically restricts airspace around events with a seating capacity of 30,000 or more, including concerts, major league baseball and motor speedway events. During Super Bowl 50 in 2016, Know Before You Fly created graphics that were posted on social media and distributed to the mainstream media reminding UAS operators and model aviators to respect TFRs in effect around the stadium.

The campaign not only reaches consumers and hobbyists about flying safely, it also provides businesses with critical information. From farmers needing to survey their fields, to real estate agents hoping for aerial footage of a new listing, businesses across every sector are excited about UAS, but they must understand the regulations governing their use. This information is critical and will help grow our economy. An AUVSI’s study has found that the U.S. could add more than 100,000 jobs and $82 billion to the economy once drones are integrated into the national airspace. By continuing our efforts in educating businesses, we hope to ensure UAS integration occurs as safely as possible.

The federal government has an important role in commercial UAS integration too. The FAA has proposed rules for the commercial and civil use of UAS that are a good first step towards ensuring the safety of the skies while bringing us closer to reaping the many societal and economic benefits of UAS technology.

In addition, the FAA has launched research initiatives to help develop procedures and technologies to identify unauthorised UAS near airports. Equipping airports with technology that can detect, track and identify UAS that are flying unsafely, or in restricted areas, will help ensure the safety of the airspace for all aircraft – both manned and unmanned.

The FAA has also designated a Centre of Excellence for UAS at Mississippi State University. The purpose of this is to focus on research, education and training to help reach safe and successful integration of drones into the national airspace. Additionally, there are 15 universities from around the country involved in this effort. Research has focused on testing detect-and-avoid technology; low altitude operations safety; compatibility with air traffic control systems and beyond-visual-line-of-sight operations.

These highly controlled research areas will provide key information about how we can reap the benefits of these operations – during search and rescue missions, for example – without putting the safety of the airspace at risk. The research conducted today will ensure that once UAS are integrated into the national airspace, the proper safety measures will already be thoroughly tested and ready to put in place.

AUVSI’s 7,500-plus members are dedicated not only to the advancement of unmanned systems, but also to ensuring this technology is used safely. AUVSI has seen first-hand the tremendous possibilities for UAS in government, industry and education. With the continued support of Know Before You Fly and the continued engagement of both experienced and new UAS operators, we can ensure a bright future for this technology and safe airspace for all.

Read more at International Airport Review