In keeping with our mission of advocacy, education, safety, and fighting to keep general aviation accessible, AOPA is focusing a great deal of attention on the efforts to promote the safe integration and operation of unmanned aircraft within the National Airspace System (NAS).
General aviation has an excellent safety record, with an estimated 500,000 pilots flying approximately 200,000 aircraft as part of an industry that supports a total annual economic output of $219 billion in the United States. Over the last several decades, the total accident rate has decreased by more than 85%, down to just seven accidents per 100,000 flight hours.
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) are now a rapidly growing and important part of general aviation. Whether performing a search and rescue operation for a government agency, helping a commercial farmer improve crop yields through precision agriculture, or enjoyed as a personal hobby, UAS are yet another effective, efficient, and affordable way to enjoy the benefits of aviation. The value of these benefits is reflected by the more than 100,000 jobs and $82 billion in economic impact estimated to be created within the first 10 years of UAS operations in the NAS.
As an organization representing the freedom of flight for all users of the NAS, AOPA believes that safely including UAS operations within the NAS can be achieved by ensuring all users have an appropriate level of aeronautical knowledge and are using technology to minimize safety risks. With safety as our first priority, AOPA has developed educational and safety content for UAS operators, while also supporting ongoing efforts by the FAA and the aviation community to further integrate UAS into the NAS.
Hobby and recreational users of UAS should be provided clear, comprehensive operational guidelines, as well as a community-based educational program concerning the safe operation of an unmanned aircraft in the NAS. As many people are likely to be introduced to aviation through building or operating a UAS, they may be unfamiliar with the categories of airspace and other important aeronautical information.
To help educate these recreational and hobby users of UAS about operating safely in the NAS, AOPA has officially signed on to support the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) "Know Before You Fly" campaign.
As numerous factors contribute to safe operations in the NAS, AOPA is evaluating the merit of government and industry proposals concerning UAS, many of which offer a wide range of technological and regulatory measures. Specifically, AOPA is very interested in vehicle registration and tracking, airspace design, and low altitude (500 feet and below) UAS traffic management. As technology advances, automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) transceivers may become a lightweight and affordable way to provide vehicle separation between manned aircraft and UAS. Likewise, more UAS manufacturers may help limit airspace incursions by adding geo-fencing features to their flight management software, restricting unmanned aircraft from entering certain airspace by creating a geographical boundary based upon GPS or radio frequency identification.
With resources throughout AOPA and our dedicated government affairs team, AOPA is exploring additional ways to promote a future of general aviation where manned aircraft and UAS safely operate together in the NAS.