Saturday, September 30, 2023

You don’t need a license to fly a drone, but there are safety issues. So, here’s a free program

Drones are fun, exciting, and challenging to fly, but they can also be dangerous, especially if they’re flying at higher altitudes and in an area where aircraft may be flying out or coming in at lower altitudes.

Areas such as Virginia Beach near Naval Air Station Oceana where every day military aircraft, including squadrons of F-18s, are coming and going by the dozens.

Tom Walker, founder and CEO of DroneUp, a Chesapeake-based community for drone operators in the Hampton Roads area, said that at the moment no permit or license is required to fly a drone.

“Recreational (drone) pilots can have a monumental impact on airspace safety,” he said, adding that in a very short span of time “drones went from zero to everywhere.”

There are some 1.2 million drone owners in the United States, including 200,000 that are commercially licensed.

According to DroneUp, they have 58 “registered” drone pilots in this area, 14 of which are Part 107 certified through the FAA.

The FAA has registered nearly 800,000 drone owners.

Issues with drones flying into unauthorized airspace around NAS Oceana is nothing new, and flight operations have been impacted.

Walker said that while a license or permit is not required for a recreational drone pilot, the FAA does require they be a member of a community program and that they “fly through them.”

Enforcing a requirement like that is nearly impossible.

To that end DroneUp is offering a free Responsible Community Pilot (RCP) program, which Walker said will help amateur drone operators understand possible impacts associated with their actions and choices.

“We think this is a good alternative and it will demonstrate to the FAA that we can regulate ourselves,” he said.

The RCP program will help educate drone pilots on safe and proper conduct, and includes guidelines, training and networking, as well as an exam. Those who complete the training get a certificate, a Community Pilot Badge, and become part of the drone community.

“We’re huge on safety,” Walker said. “We help them learn how to conduct themselves and how to fly responsibly and with respect.”

Walker said he’d like to see the state adopt a policy requiring drone pilots to complete a RCP program. To date more than 20,000 non-commercial drone pilots have completed the program.

Anyone interested can visit DroneUp online for additional information.

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