As drone applications and the underlying technology develop, regulators around the world are doing their best to keep up.
Giving organizations the leeway to innovate while prioritizing the public’s safety is a delicate balancing act. So the rules determining what pilots and businesses can and can’t do with drones are shifting all the time. It’s an inevitable part of operating in an emerging market.
There remains plenty of uncertainty over how regulations will unfold in the coming years. Besides the technology, the business cases, the importance of safety and public opinion are bound to have an impact.
The good news is that, as members of the public and industry insiders, drone pilots are in the perfect position to advocate for the technology and have their voices heard.
Here are a few ways you can advocate for the drone industry and weigh in on the future of your profession.
Comment on Proposed Drone Rules
Earlier this year, the FAA published two Proposed Rule documents outlining plans to evolve regulations for drone operations. The Advance notice of proposed rule-making (ANPRM) and the Notice of proposed rule-making covered things like flights over people or at night without a waiver, changes to the knowledge testing requirements, new stand-off distances, operating and performance restrictions and much, much more.
Part of that process was a public call for comments, which invited drone pilots and industry organizations to have their say on the proposals with a view to shaping the evolution of drone regulations in the United States.
If that whole process passed you by, you’re not the only one. There were plenty of pilots that commented on the proposals, but plenty more who didn’t.
In future, if the FAA publishes planned changes and looks to gauge public and industry opinion, make sure you take the time to have your say.
The proposals will usually be made available on regulations.gov. But you can also find out about opportunities to get involved by joining an industry advocacy group. Which brings us to...
Join an industry advocacy group
There are a bunch of advocacy groups in the drone industry, bringing pilots and other stakeholders together to influence public policy for the better. These include:
The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) is the world's largest model aviation association. It has almost 200,000 members. Traditionally the AMA has represented the model aircraft community, but more recently the organization has also represented the interests of drone pilots and the aerial photography community more broadly.
The AMA entered a new chapter following the FAA’s repeal of Section 336. You can join or find out more at www.modelaircraft.org.
AUVSI is an international non-profit that brings together professionals and enthusiasts with a passion for all things unmanned.
AUVSI represents the interests of industry, professionals and academics from more than 60 countries. The organization also runs an annual expo, offers a range of resources for professionals and enthusiasts, and runs the Remote Pilots Council (RPC)
You can visit www.auvsi.org to find out more.
Get involved in specific campaigns
Following the chaos caused at London’s Gatwick airport by a suspected drone late last year, Coventry council – the local government for a city in England’s West Midlands – were considering a total ban on drone flights in public parks and a ban on recreational flights in the city.
There were also rumors that the council was considering charging commercial pilots for operating in the area. Understandably, this came as a warning of what might be to come for UK drone pilots.
Following a campaign led by NODE Europe and hundreds of complaints about the suggested measures, the council deferred the proposals. Drone pilots everywhere prevented the setting of a dangerous precedent.
ACT NOW to protect drones from prohibition in Coventry!— Node Europe (@NodeEurope) January 7, 2019
Coventry County is proposing a Drone Policy to ban recreational use in the city.
Add your voice here: https://t.co/FvnldOlHn9 pic.twitter.com/5cdkKVAdGH
It’s a great example of how pilots can come together to voice their concerns and make sure regulations evolve based on careful consideration, rather than rashness. If you’re based in the EU, Node has a page of drone-related campaigns that might be of interest.
Be an ambassador
It’s important to remember that every time you fly, you’re representing the drone industry and your fellow pilots. Sadly, the irresponsible actions of a tiny minority - whether they are disrupting firefighting efforts or generally flying where they shouldn’t - tend to make headlines and influence public opinion.
But it’s still early days and there’s plenty of time for the public to be won over by the enormous benefits that come with drone adoption.
Whenever you are flying, you can be an advocate in your own small way, whether that’s explaining what you are (and aren’t) doing to onlookers, or introducing friends and family to all the ways that drones are being used for good.