Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or more commonly referred to as drones, present potential safety risks to air medical crews, aircraft, their patients and first responders at the scene as their numbers and use becomes more widespread.
A big selling point for the UAS hobbyist is the "fly it right out of the box" marketing done by the drone manufacturers. Sure there are instructions in the box but who takes the time to read them? And if the operator reads the instructions and follows them carefully, what about the rules regarding safe operation, UAS limitations and potential failures, liability insurance, and where they can and cannot fly? This leaves manned aircraft such as air medical helicopters and fixed wing aircraft in a very vulnerable position.
So how can organizations protect their patients, flight crews and aircraft? This is a tough question because there are limited ways in which to combat this increasingly complex safety issue. As with all things, education is and will continue to be a valuable tool in raising awareness of the hazards and risks that the uninformed UAS operator presents. There are a number of means in which to educate your referring and receiving customers as well as the communities you serve on the risks and issues associated with UAS operation. These include:

  • Develop/communicate your organization's position statement regarding the presence of unmanned aircraft at a scene/hospital helipad
    • Incorporate into safety training
  • Enlist other air medical programs for a unified message regarding UAS operation and safety
    • Seek legislative support on a state level as a group
  • Create/update educational documents on operation and safety based upon the current rules/guidelines
    • Hospital
    • Dispatch
    • Fire/EMS
    • Law Enforcement
    • Community
    • Organization personnel
  • Partner with your customers to help spread the message
    • Valuable way to engage their support
    • Utilization of television, radio, print and social media
    • Develop educational items reflecting the commitment of both organizations
    • There is no definitive or absolute way to in which to prevent an encounter with a drone but being proactive thru education and partnership will go a long way towards that goal.
Some of the latest informational articles on the UAS subject:

FAA App to determine when and where it is safe to fly and shows any flight restrictions for UAS:

Proposed Commercial UAS Modernization Act:

NASA and Verizon working on air traffic control for drones:

As everyone is aware, the FAA is currently in the process of rule making (comment period ended April 24) for commercial (civil) operation of small unmanned aircraft less than 55 pounds. The rules are not expected to be completed by the September 30, 2015 deadline but the FAA is hopeful that they will be by the end of 2015. It is important to remember that recreational UAS are not included in the upcoming rules. Recreational unmanned aircraft operate under Section 336 of PL 112-95 and the AMA Safety Code and they will not be impacted by the new commercial rules.

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