Plane-ly Spoken has long advocated a vigorous FAA hobbyist education program as a way to cut down on the alarming number of near-miss incidents between UAS and aircraft.  The FAA has heard these calls, and has responded with a new joint initiative between FAA, AUVSI, and the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA).

According to the FAA press release announcing the effort, UAS are the new “must-have holiday gift.”  This means that there will be a large number of new hobbyists with little or no idea of how the national airspace system works or what the risks may be of flying UAS, even in rural areas.  While groups like the AMA have been around for over 80 years, and have well developed safety codes aimed at hobbyists, few people opening their presents on Christmas day have ever heard of the group, let alone know that there is a safety code that they should be reviewing.  That is why a robust effort at educating buyers at the point of sale is so important.

The group is also bringing FAA education efforts up to date by creating a new safety video  to go with the written materials.  The video includes general safety information, an admonishment that UAS can’t be flown commercially, and a warning that if you do anything unsafe, the FAA can fine you.  The FAA might have been well advised to enlist the production assistance of one of the Hollywood moviemakers to whom they granted an exemption.  While entertaining, the FAA video won’t be winning any awards.

The good news is that in the first two days since the video was posted, it has received over 110,000 views.  The bad news comes from reading the numerous comments posted in response to the video.  Given the relatively tame approach of the video, the vitriol from disgruntled hobbyists is truly astonishing.  The comments include diatribes stating that the FAA has no authority to regulate drones, complaints that these are just “guidelines” and not laws, protests of the commercial UAS restrictions, and the omnipresent arguments about the restrictions on first-person-view technology.  Of course, no debate on the internet would be complete without numerous obscenities directed at the FAA.

The current UAS safety problems come from a combination of arrogance and ignorance, and these comments clearly show how widespread the former is.  Many people, who understand the safety issues and are immersed in the technology, think that the rules should not apply to them because they know better.  While an education program can reach some of these people and change their minds, the majority of them must be deterred rather than educated.  That is where a vigorous FAA enforcement program must come into play.

People have to understand that breaking the rules has consequences, and that unsafe actions like flying into navigable airspace won’t be tolerated.  Hopefully, the FAA is gearing up on this front as well.  Education, by itself, is simply not going to get the job done.

(Originally posted December 26, 2014)