by Dave Weiman
Earlier this year, I had heard there were 500,000 drones in the hands of hobbyists, but this week, there are reports there are now over a million. Regardless, it is fact that the number of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) is increasing and we need to be concerned with how they can affect flight safety.
The other evening, I was out at our local airstrip about one hour before sunset and heard a humming sound, so I looked around and there about 300 feet above the ground and one-half mile from the approach end to Runway 9, there was a UAS hovering. With farms all around the airport, I suspected it was someone monitoring the condition of crops, and I was right. On my third telephone call I learned that our local farm cooperative was operating three drones in the county and I spotted one of them.
When I introduced myself to the crops sales manager on the telephone, he seemed uninformed, but receptive to receiving additional information on how to avoid a conflict with airport traffic, so I followed up and emailed him some additional information. In return I received a prompt email from the president of the coop who was likewise receptive, and expressed interest in having staff attend a workshop being hosted by a local airport and fixed base operation.
Among the items I forwarded to the coop was a map and list of all public and private airports in the county with the names and telephone numbers of each manager and owner, so the next time they intend to operate within a 5 nm radius of an airport, they will hopefully pick up the telephone and call the airport. Special thanks to the Wisconsin Bureau of Aeronautics for providing me with the map and contact list of all public and private airports in the county.
While the Federal Aviation Administration continues to refine its requirements for recreational and commercial UAS operators, it would be prudent for us in the aviation community to be proactive in protecting our airspace by initiating dialogue with local farm cooperatives and other commercial UAS operators in hopes of avoiding conflicts at our airports.
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Congratulations to Earl Lawrence, former Vice President of Industry & Regulatory Affairs with the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), for being named the Director of the UAS Integration Office within FAA’s Aviation Safety Division. Lawrence will lead the FAA’s efforts to safely and effectively integrate UAS into the nation’s airspace.
Lawrence was with EAA from 1994 to 2010, when the FAA hired him to be the Director of FAA’s Small Airplane Directorate. In that position, Lawrence was responsible for 17 aircraft certification and manufacturing district offices in 21 states from Alaska to Florida.
When you attend the “Meet The FAA Administrator” forum at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh each year in July, and the Administrator introduces his top managers and you hear an applause, EAA members are applauding Earl Lawrence.
Joining Lawrence in the UAS Integration Office is Hoot Gibson, who is the Senior Advisor on UAS Integration, a position established to focus on external outreach and education, inter-agency initiatives and an enterprise-level approach to FAA management of UAS integration efforts. Gibson will report directly to the FAA Deputy Administrator.
Gibson previously served as Executive Director of the NextGen Institute, which provides professional services to the UAS Joint Program Development Office. He has also owned his own aviation consulting firm, and held numerous senior command and staff positions during his 33-year career in the U.S. Air Force.