It’s been over a week since the last blog post, but there’s a good reason for that – we’re now on a set blog post publishing schedule! I needed to let a couple extra days go by to get to Friday because this day – the end of the week (for some) – will be the day that the blog gets updated with another piece of news, collection of thoughts, or something else I might think is important enough to put out there. So yeah – keep your eyes open on Fridays!
Anyway, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into the post. It’s a weird one because it’s something that both intrigues me but also irritates me. See, as a licensed commercial drone pilot, I put a lot of time and effort into making sure that I’m not doing things that could put my license in jeopardy. From flying into controlled airspace without authorization to failing to make sure that my drones are airworthy, there are any number of things that could happen during a flight that could result in my having to have a very uncomfortable conversation with someone at the FAA.
One of the biggest of those is VLOS, or visual line of sight. Regulations say that you have to have visual line of sight to your drone while it is in the air unaided by visual aids like binoculars. YOU.
Not a spotter.
Not a visual observer.
Not anyone else on your flight crew.
Yet one of the most common videos you see on YouTube and other sources when looking for drone videos to watch is the all-too-common range test video. You know which one I’m talking about – it’s the video where the person flies the drone out as farrrrrrrr as it will go to test the capabilities of the aircraft and the controller. And while these videos, quite frankly, can be rather helpful in boosting confidence in the technology you’re holding in your hands and understanding just how powerful these machines are, they are also 100% completely and totally a violation of VLOS rules.
No matter how much time the person in the voiceover spends trying to justify the fact that their drone is now four and a half miles away from them, unless they are some kind of mutant with superhuman vision, there is simply no way they have VLOS to the aircraft.
Yet, without their flagrant disregard for the rules, we also wouldn’t have documentation of the incredible capabilities of these devices we’re so lucky to interact with. In watching the videos, the risk to humans in just about every range test I’ve seen has been zero. They are either conducted over water or flat land with no one on it, like a desert. The drone might take out an unlucky cactus, but it’s definitely not going to crash into someone’s head and send them to the hospital. And the drone is generally low enough that it poses absolutely no risk to aircraft in the area, unless someone happens to be flying at 50 feet for some reason….in which case, maybe they should fear a phone call from the FAA.
My hope is that as this technology continues to mature, we continue to put an increased level of faith and trust in its capabilities. By creating regulations that acknowledge their capabilities and reserve the full scope of those capabilities for those who are licensed and trained to use them, we can unlock an entirely new era in the usefulness of drones for the professional pilot.