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Drones and Federal Aviation Regulations

All active pilots, regardless of what they are flying, need to stay abreast of and follow current federal aviation regulations. The national airspace system provides an efficient, and above all else, safe aviation infrastructure for all aviators. That safety can be compromised by anyone operating without a clear understanding of the governing airspace rules that apply to the many types of aircraft that share it. And that is why drone pilots, regardless of their recreational or commercial operation, must be educated on the rules of flight.

Changing the federal aviation regulations is not an easy or fast task. Not only pilots, but also the public at large is invited to participate in the rulemaking process. Once a rule becomes effective, some might cheer while others will complain, but regardless of their opinions, the one thing everyone must do, is follow the rules.

On June 28, 2016, just over five years ago, the FAA released Part 107, which requires Commercial drone operators topass a knowledge exam>and obtain a valid FAA remote pilot certificate in order to operate an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) under Part 107 rules. The regulations have since evolved further, not only for remote pilots and drone operators, but for manned aircraft pilots, as well. On April 21, 2021, a brand-new Part 89 governing Remote Identification of Unmanned Aircraft was introduced, which brought with it amendments and revisions to Parts 1, 21, 43, 47, 48, 91, and 107.

Recently, there has been a lot of concern as to why the FAA is imposing new rules on remote recreational drone operators. (The FAA recently announced The Recreational UAS Safety Test, or TRUST, an online exam offered at no charge that validates that recreational pilots are aware of the regulations and federal laws that apply to unmanned flights that are not conducted under Part 107.) Consider that remotely operated flying “things” are more powerful and more affordable than ever before and that a lot of high-speed, long-range, altitude-busting technology can be packed into the smallest of unmanned aircraft. Without an understanding of who is flying what where, even the most unlikely, passive hobbyist innocently buzzing around the neighborhood can threaten the overall airspace infrastructure.

The new rules around unmanned aircraft are not intended to suppress, but to protect. Whether the aircraft you are flying is a toy you received for your birthday or something much bigger, the bottom line is that all aircraft are sharing the same airspace and remote pilots are also responsible for avoiding incidents and accidents. And while airspace is monitored and assisted by highly capable human beings and computer systems, it is also vulnerable to human factors, lack of situational awareness, and faulty aircraft parts and components.

Airplanes, helicopters, hot air balloons, gliders, and other existing manned aircraft aren’t going away. Vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) and other manned aircraft are in rapid development. Add to this the scope and sheer volume of drones and unmanned aircraft getting thrown into the mix and new to the skies. The airspace is getting crowded and while everyone operates with the “see and avoid” baseline, they also must have a solid understanding of airspace rules so they know who and what to be on the lookout for. In addition to existing rules and procedures, new ones are continually being introduced.

FAA-controlled airspace is monitored or supervised in the interest of safety. With the number of aircraft that are in the air today, and the thousands or even millions that will be in the air in the years to come, manned and unmanned aircraft operators will need to come together and play by the same rules to collectively ensure the safety and efficiency of the national airspace system for those who operate in it as well as those living beneath it.

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