Before You Fly … Before You Even Buy a Drone (Updated 9-5-2016)
Drones, or unmanned aerial systems (UAS) as they’re sometimes called, represent the future for aviation in so many different ways, from their ability to create incredible aerial photography, to their potential to change the way packages are delivered, to functioning as reconnaissance aircraft in disaster areas deemed unsafe for humans. Of course, drones can also be just plain fun to fly too.
Because owning even the tiniest drone may well represent the first time many of you have flown anything, it’s important to understand that once your drone leaves the ground, it’s entering airspace often occupied by other aircraft, not to mention other drones.
UAS/drone operators flying from locations – even your backyard – near an airport must pay special attention to the fact that their machines could pose a safety threat to nearby manned aircraft.
An Airspace Primer
The airspace above your home, your business, or even the local park, is under the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This is the agency that regulates all aircraft operations in the United States, from the licensing of pilots and aviation maintenance technicians, to operating the nation’s air traffic control system (ATC) that’s responsible for safely separating all aircraft from each other aloft. Thousands of aviation professionals work together 24-hours a day to keep the flying public and people on the ground as safe as possible.
The aviation industry’s biggest worry right now is that someone unfamiliar with how normal airspace for manned aircraft is organized, might inadvertently fly a drone too close to an actual airplane in flight. A collision between a drone, even a small one and an aircraft, could lead to a disaster, just like the hazard birds pose to manned aircraft.
The New Part 107 Rule for Drone Operators
In an attempt to bring some sort of order to the hundreds of thousands of drones being purchased each year in the U.S., the FAA, in the spring of 2016, published Part 107, a set of rules designed to simplify the licensing and operating guidelines for flying drones commercially. The agency also published a summary of the regulation in June. Nearly all drones operated in the U.S. weighing more than 0.55 pounds, even those operated by hobbyists must be registered with the FAA. That process begins here.
Now that Part 107 has become law, people who want to use their drones commercially must be older than 16 years of age and earn a remote pilot operator certificate. There are two possible routes.
If the potential operator has never held a pilot certificate, they must pass a knowledge test and verify their identification with the FAA. If the potential drone operator already holds a valid pilot certificate, they can earn their new license by completing the agency’s online training course before verifying their identity. The guidelines for earning the certificate are listed here.
Flight Operations Near an Airport
One rule that applies to every operator is that drones may not be flown within five miles of an operating airport like Chicago Executive, unless the operator obtains permission from the local air traffic control unit, in most cases the control tower, before the flight. Those ATC waivers can be obtained through this link.
Even though hobbyists are not required to hold a remote pilot operator’s certificate, they are still not allowed to fly a drone close to an airport.
Have Fun … But Fly Safely
We encourage you to have fun flying your drone and even to earn a living as a drone operator if you can. We just hope you’ll spend a little time to better understand the rules and requirements for operating your aircraft in often-congested airspace so everyone – whether they’re in the air or on the ground – can remain safe.
We’ve created a list of resources we think you might find useful in your career as a drone operator. This list is by no means complete; if you run across a link you believe might be helpful to others, please share it, as well as your questions. We also hope you’ll share our resource page with other drone operators in your community. BTW, if you have photos or videos of your drone in action, why not send them along. We’d be happy to share them with the community.
Contact our drone coordinator Rob Mark, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 847-537-2580, ext. 114 with any questions or suggestions about how we can make sure flying drones remains safe and profitable for everyone.
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A List of Useful Resources
Vortex UAS, based at Chicago Executive Airport offers a variety of UAS training classes
The UAV Digest podcast, a weekly show with industry news
The British Air Line Pilots Assoc. created a Drone Safety video offering valuable safety tips for all operators
Watch the video of a Falcon attacking a drone he must have thought looked like lunch. (Courtesy of Turnkey.pro)
More questions? Perhaps a drone operating tip or two? E-mail them to the airport’s Communications Director Rob Mark at email@example.com or call 847-537-2580, ext 117.