Sharing the Skies, The Drone Evolution
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Sharing the Skies, The Drone Evolution

Kat Swain, Senior Director of UAS programs, AOPA
Kat Swain, Senior Director of UAS programs, AOPA

Kat Swain, Senior Director of UAS programs, AOPA

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) represents hundreds of thousands of pilots and aviation enthusiasts, and is the largest aviation community in the world. AOPA’s credibility derives, in significant part, from its steadfast adherence to our mission of advocacy, education, safety, and fighting to keep general aviation accessible. In keeping with the spirit of that mission our founders set out 80 years ago,AOPA is focusing a great deal of attention on the efforts to promote the safe integration and operation of unmanned aircraft, otherwise known as drones within the National Airspace System (NAS). Through the years, AOPA has adapted to an evolving environment while staying true to its core value of protecting the freedom to fly.

Drone usage is now a rapidly growing and important part of general aviation. The FAA estimated there were 142,000 remote pilots as of the summer of 2019, otherwise known as commercial drone pilots, and that number is expected to grow to 300,000 by 2022. The hobbyists or recreational drone operators far outnumber commercial users at a staggering 1.1 million operators in 2017 with projections for that to increase to 2.4 million by 2022.

The freedom to fly comes with responsibility and accountability

Whether performing a search and rescue operation for a government agency, helping a commercial farmer improve crop yields through precision agriculture, or enjoyed as a personal hobby, drones are yet another effective, efficient, and affordable way to realize the benefits of aviation. The value of these benefits is apparent and the innovation should not be stifled, but it should not be placed ahead of safety. Safety should work hand in hand with innovation.

The freedom to fly comes with responsibility and accountability. AOPA believes that safely including drone operations within the National Airspace System can be achieved by ensuring all operators have an appropriate level of aeronautical knowledge and are using technology to minimize risks. With safety as our first priority, AOPA has developed educational and safety content for drone operators, while also supporting ongoing efforts by the FAA and the aviation community to further integrate drones.

Numerous factors contribute to safe operations in the NAS. AOPA is evaluating the merit of government and industry proposals concerning drones, many of which offer a wide range of technological and regulatory measures. Specifically, AOPA’sinterests involve registration, remote identification and tracking, geo-fencing technology, detect and avoid technology, airspace design, and UAS traffic management. As technology advances, more drone manufacturers may help limit airspace incursions by enhancing geo-fencing features to their flight management software, restricting drones from entering certain sensitive airspace by creating a geographical boundary based on GPS or radio frequencies.

As use of this new drone technology grows, AOPA will continue to explore additional ways to promote a future of general aviation where manned aircraft and drones safely share the skies together.



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