Our commercial drone industry relies on a culture of safety. The people who embody the right ways to fly are a big reason why there is increasing public acceptance of uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) across the globe. Recently, we had the chance to talk to one of these unsung heroes. Dave Cooper operates EQB View, an aerial production company based in Huntsville, Alabama. He’s also a volunteer with the FAA’s drone safety outreach program that is part of FAAST – the FAA’s Safety Team.

Given Dave’s role in the safety community and his wide-ranging UAS experience, he’s a great resource to better understand:

  • What role FAAST plays in drone safety
  • What the process of Part 107 violations is like
  • How organizations can build safety into their drone operations

What is FAAST?

Dave Cooper: It’s an extension of the FAA’s Safety Team in a non-paid status. Think of it as an established network between the FAA and flyers in the field. It’s not just for drones and every system is represented. There are specialists for every safety realm. The focus is on educating operators on rules and promoting safety. The reason the rules are there is for safety.

Part of what we do is stay in touch with FAA HQ about new messages and documents that they develop. We’re acting as a liaison between the aviation field and the FAA. We’ll assist with the promotion of FAAST team tools for risk management or safety principles for example. If we’re hearing something from the field, we can let the FAA know about it and then they’re able to take action on it.

How are Part 107 violations reported and handled?

Dave Cooper: Typically, state and local law enforcement and other flyers will observe and report violations. At which point, it would then turn into the FAA’s process for validation. If it’s safety related and a true risk to society, there would be immediate involvement.

If a violation is reported and verified, what’s going to happen is that they’ll be given an opportunity to address their violation. There’s usually an education discussion about the violation and the topic. That can be either in person or over the phone. It’s important for them to recognize what’s at risk for them. As Part 107 certificate holders, our certificates can be put on hold or pulled back at any point.

In following up recently with a rogue operator, it was clear the operator was both flying over people without a waiver and operating commercially without a Part 107. The outcome there has been that the operator is now studying for the 107 exam and I’ve assisted them with resources to prepare for the exam.

How can companies with drone programs get safety right from the start?

Dave Cooper: To do it right, you need to have someone that understands the program. Safety is just not painting lines on the ground. Safety is education. Safety is maintenance. Safety is operations.
If you have a system to track all those metrics, you definitely have a leg up.

From an operational perspective, you want to know things like: When was the last time that pilot had currency or training on a specific task? Everything should be documented. From the business side, how are we tracking our hours? When should we be changing out blades? When was the last time the aircraft was inspected? Documenting that is a very professional and safe way to ensure you’re doing what you say you’re going to.

How can hobbyists and commercial operators reinforce the same system and culture of safety?

Dave Cooper: If you make the rules different, then there are fewer ways to enforce the standard. If you’re a 172 pilot, you operate under the same rules as a commercial 747 pilot to land at most airports. If we want to narrow the gap between the professional pilots flying manned aircraft and the professional pilots flying uncrewed aircraft, we’re going to do it through hobbyists just as much, because there’s so many of them.

People that are new to drones may not understand their part in the aviation community. Remember, our 4-10 pound drones are affecting the rest of the aviation community as well.

Representatives are not authorized to act as official representatives of the FAA under any circumstances. Matters requiring legal interpretation of the Federal Aviation Regulations, clarification of FAA policies, possible enforcement actions, or any other questionable circumstances should be directly referred to the FAASTeam Program Manager.

To learn more about the FAAST, visit: https://www.faasafety.gov/FAASTApp/pub/default.aspx