Air-Medical Programs must engage in UAS-related topics, education
2015 has already been a busy year of news about drones. A drone crashing on the White House grounds, the capture of a drone over-laden with illicit drugs attempting to sneak over the border, and some high-profile near-misses with medical helicopters and airliners have begun to increase the awareness that drones present a problem that is almost certain to get worse before it gets better.
It is important that all air-medical programs increase their awareness of drone-related topics as their recreational use continues to soar and as rules for commercial use are developed.
Here are some important drone-related topics and links where you can find more information:
Report Drone Encounters
The FAA is requesting that when a drone is encountered, not only Air Traffic Control be notified, but also local law enforcement. ATC may not always contact law enforcement, and in order to follow up the FBI requires law enforcement documentation.
Pilots also must maintain separation from the drone as well, and should not follow it to try to identify its origin.
FAA Proposes Rules for Commercial Use
Operation of small drones (UAS) are currently limited to recreational and hobbyist use with a handful of specific exceptions. Various industries have been clamoring for the ability to use drones commercially, and the FAA recently responded with proposed rules for the commercial use of Unmanned Aerial Systems. The proposed regulations would provide operational requirements for commercial operators of small UAS under 55 pounds. They do not address "microdrones" under 4.4 pounds.
Among the uses permitted under the current FAA draft are crop monitoring/inspection, research and development, educational/academic uses, power-line/pipeline inspection in hilly or mountainous terrain, antenna inspections, aerial photography/news gathering, and wildlife nesting area evaluations, among others.
As proposed, small UAS would be limited to daylight-only operations, confined areas of operation, and visual-line-of-sight operations.
These rules would not apply to the hobby or recreational operation of small UAS, which are not governed by the FAA.
The FAA docket number is FAA–2015–0150.
The deadline for public comment is April 24, 2015.
Privacy concerns under consideration
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is seeking comment on the development of best practice for privacy, transparency and accountability for commercial and private drone use. The comment period ends April 20, 2015. The NTIA docket number is 150224183-5183-01
Press release about developing privacy best practices
Request for comments form
Public Education About Drone Safety is Critical
Drones were among the most searched holiday gift items in 2014. Technology makes flying them fairly simple – in fact, most of them can be charged up and flown right away. But because of this, many people don't take a training course, don't take the time to learn how to control UAVs safely, and don't know the laws about when and where it's safe and legal to fly them.
As a result, inexperienced or unsafe recreational drone users may pose the greatest risk to manned aircraft.
Hobby UAS are not regulated by the FAA, but their guidelines for use were established in federal law by Congress in Public Law 11-95 and in the Academy of Model Aeronautics Safety Code.
We encourage you and your program to become familiar with the rules that exist for drone use by hobbyists, and to work with local law enforcement, fire departments and EMS, hobbyist clubs and local media to help raise public awareness.
Here are just some of the rules regarding the use of drones:
Without exception, a UAS operator is always required to give way and remain well clear of a manned aircraft
They must be flown in sight of the pilot/operator
They must see and avoid people and property
Aircraft may not fly higher than 400 feet above the ground
They must not be operated within 5 miles of an airport or hospital helipad without notifying and getting permission from the Air Traffic Control Center and/or the hospital
They must comply with all Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) and Notice to Airmen (NOTAMs).
For more information and guidelines for operating UAS safely, visit http://knowbeforeyoufly.org, a user-friendly site that promotes safe UAS operation. It was created by drone manufacturers with input from recreational associations and the FAA.
Another good resource is the Academy of Model Aeronautics, whose Code of Conduct is integrated into the federal law governing recreational use of UAS.
When the most recent UAS rules were adopted in 2012, congress felt that the AMA safety code and existing law were all that were necessary to ensure safe operation. The proliferation and impact of the recreational/hobbyist market was vastly underestimated, though, and the rate of drone-related incidents is renewing interest in improved regulation.