In this week’s public safety column, Steve Rhode writes about what is most important to developing a safety culture in the drone industry. Pilots: Know the FAA’s rules of flight and monitor yourself.
The following is part of a bi-weekly series on drone public safety issues by Steve Rhode, chief pilot of the Wake Forest Fire Department and the North Carolina Public Safety Drone Academy and founder of Public Safety Flight, a website that has information on how to use drone unmanned aircraft systems ( UAS), UAVs, planes and drones in public safety. (Not intended as legal advice: please check regulations on FAA government page.)
What is important?
Sometimes, like now, I honestly feel like my drone flying duties are like juggling six burning bowling balls and trying not to hurt anyone. It can all become overwhelming balancing requirements, federal aviation regulations, and regulatory expectations.
As a public safety aviation educator, I see a huge difference between constantly flying within the rules and completing the mission.
I felt comfortable that my role as a pilot mentor is to educate pilots about the rules and limits and to enable each pilot to make the best decisions and choices they can make. Sometimes people make the absolutely wrong decision and pay the price for it.
You have to monitor yourself
It’s exhausting being the drone police, constantly correcting any pilot who makes bad decisions. I don’t want this job because it should be your job to oversee your own piloting decisions. And not for the reason you might think.
Here’s a fact: no one is the subject of any FAA action or civil or criminal action for flight operations until they are.
The minute after you were the subject of one of these actions, I heard people complain, “But no one told me I couldn’t do this” or “Others fly like that, so it must be fine.”
As a professional public safety pilot, you must accept and take responsibility for knowing FAA flight rules and conducting your flight operations accordingly. Ignorance is not a defense.
If you deviate from the rules, the first thing to understand is that the pilot-in-command bears all liability and responsibility for all aircraft and flight operations. That’s you. There’s no getting around it.
Knowing the FAA rules of flight that apply to your operation in CFR Part 21, 89, 91, and 107, as well as understanding your COA, is ultimately your responsibility, even if others are responsible for your actions.
Suppose you are a pilot who is not proactively studying and learning how to fly within the rules. In this case, if you have filed or sued a complaint against you, you will be liable to yourself, your department, and your future financial well-being.
Let your brain think right now
As a public safety drone pilot, things keep getting more complicated and you have to deal more with regulations. In the last few years the rules for flying according to Part 107 have already been expanded.
The last set of updates is not the end of the FAA rules expansion. It is the beginning. It is important to understand when you take personal responsibility for completing a mission by flying beyond the rules.
Many of us have found ourselves in a place where a requested flight would break the rules. And at times like these, when it is not possible to call DC and obtain special permit to fly, you must weigh your liability against the reward of the flight.
If the potential reward or outcome for a flight is high, like finding the lost child, it may be a risk you want to take. These decisions are ultimately the responsibility of the pilot in charge.
However, when someone is injured or property damaged, taking the risk isn’t a free card to get out of prison. But it could be.
The opposite is also true. If the potential reward for a violated flight is high and the risk is low, let this ring in your head – don’t go. Say no.
You may have a department manager who may say a flight has not been approved. If so, the answer is clear; you shouldn’t fly. But if your chief pilot says you can fly the mission and for some reason it doesn’t feel right, you have the power and authority as the pilot in command to refuse to fly.
Only when you know what your legal limits are can you make an informed and informed decision. And that’s important.
It all depends on you.
Steve Rhode is an FAA Certified Commercial and Instrument Certified Airplane Pilot, an Experienced Part 107 UAS Commercial Pilot, and Chief Pilot of the Wake Forest Fire Department and the North Carolina Public Safety Drone Academy. He advises drone pilots through the Homeland Security Information Network and as a drone expert on the FAA Safety Team. Steve is the founder of Public Safety Flight, a website that contains news, honest information, tips, and stories about unmanned aerial vehicle systems (UAS), UAVs, aircraft, and drones in fire departments and other public safety niches. Sign up for the Public Safety Flight newsletter to add to Steve’s personal email list or contact Steve here. On the plane, his FAA callsign is Fire Demon 1: and Firebird 1 with the drone.
Miriam McNabb is Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a marketplace for professional drone services, and a fascinating observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Author of over 3,000 articles focusing on the commercial drone space, Miriam is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high-tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For advice or writing in the drone industry, email Miriam.
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