Sharing the Skies
Written by Ethan Schreuder
With the nearly 1 million unmanned aircraft (drones) registered in the U.S., the likelihood of encounters between drones and manned aircraft increases every month. With all the recent news about drones being spotted near airports and causing delays, cancellations and lost revenue, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that all drones are bad. As an FAA Part 107 Certified Remote Pilot and a hobbyist for more than half my life, I know it’s my job to fly safely within the National Airspace System.
Everyone needs to fly safely and follow the rules, no matter how many hoops you have to jump through, because just one infraction or lapse in judgement can have devastating consequences for individuals as well as the industry. If you operate safely and mitigate risk appropriately, getting approval really isn’t that difficult.
Here at Woolpert, I work closely with fellow pilots, airports, air traffic control towers and the FAA to operate drones in a safe manner. By understanding the chain of command and how drones function, we can share the skies with manned aircraft even in congested areas, such as at Savannah/Hilton Head (SAV) and Charlotte Douglas (CLT). Our safe operations result in decreased costs and increased efficiency for everyone involved.
One of the main problems that I see is a lack of education. If you own a drone, it is your responsibility to know and follow all local, state and federal regulations. These rules are different, though, for hobbyists and commercial operators (14 CFR Part 107). While the same drone can be used for both purposes, the user is still responsible for understanding when and how to follow each set of rules.
I can’t count how many times I have watched someone fly a drone while I was playing with my son in a park near the airport. Because my business is dependent on safe drone operations, I feel it is my duty to at least speak with the operator. I ask how their day is going and casually ask if they’ve contacted the nearby airport. Four times out of five, they have no idea the airport is even there! They typically pause their operation and we have a civil discussion as to what needs to happen. Before you know it, they’ve called the airport and are up and flying again!
At Woolpert, we pride ourselves on maintaining a 100% safety rating in drone operations. Our clients expect it, and we hold ourselves to that high standard. Don’t get me wrong—it’s only a select few who give our operations a bad name. Unfortunately, news platforms do tend to report the one or two near misses and not the hundreds of successful operations that take place every day. I encourage everyone to follow the rules and educate others whenever possible. Jumping through a few hoops now could mean fewer hoops in the future. Until then, fly safe.
Woolpert’s newest unmanned aircraft system (UAS) guru, Ethan Schreuder is an experienced survey technician with a strong GIS background. He is a licensed UAS pilot with over 13 years of experience operating radio-controlled vehicles. Ethan has worked on nearly 50 aviation projects for Woolpert, including using UAS to map a runway extension project. He’s also been spotted manning the controls of a flying-pumpkin-trajectory-measuring drone.