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A HEMS pilot friend shared a discussion he had with a drone pilot and another HEMS worker. The redacted version follows,
A comment about the hazards associated with drones started the debate...
Dronefan: Oh geez such propaganda....
MikeGolf: Not propaganda at all, drones are a real threat to helicopter safety.
DroneFan: When's the last time one or any rc aircraft struck a manned vehicle?
MikeGolf: It's just a matter of time before it happens, with so many drones in use. They can do just as much damage (or more) than birds.
DroneFan: I'm well aware of the damage they can cause and the rise of their popularity. But pilot error has and will continue to cause more fatality in hems than drones.
MikeMike: ... you're correct. Thats why we, as a 135 operator took steps aimed at preventing common causes of accidents, such as implementing our IFR program, AMRM training, etc. So you are saying the industry should ignore newly identified hazards until they kill someone? If you are well aware of the damage they can cause, then it's hardly "propaganda" to try and get out in front before they cause an accident.
DroneFan: nope, saying that it will never be as big of an issue as pilot error, erroneous flights or mechanical, and that the issue is being inflated beyond the (non) issue it currently is. Bird strikes seem like a much larger concern, maybe we can get a government agency to move their migratory patterns or have a chip installed to make sure they fly below 400' agl. I am all for safety I really am... but this whole situation is being blown out of proportion. Yes the ability for anyone to pretty easily put an object in the way of an aircraft is scary... I get it but RC airplanes and helicopters have been around for years and I haven't seen an epidemic of collisions.
MikeMike: RC airplanes aren't the problem. All of the RC hobbyists I know spend a significant amount of time and treasure on their passion, and aren't the ones who'll end up trying to become a youtube star by filming an accident scene or whatever. It wasn't an RC model airplane I flew past inside of IAH's Class B at 800'. I don't worry about them. It's the owners who either don't know, or won't abide by the rules. Like you said, it hasn't happened yet, but in just about every HAA pilot you talk to's opinion, its just a matter of time.
DroneFan: Well, as a "hobbyist" and someone who has a vested interest in "drones" I hope there is an amicable resolution at hand. I am very responsible with what I am flying. And I know there are bad apples but as a whole the industry is not bad and the people who are involved care about our image. Your everyday Joe buying one off the shelves and being dumb is where the problem lies... but we aren't all bad, In fact the units I fly wont even engage motors within 2 miles of class B and restrict height and flight based on class B and GPS... Bad press is bad press and every industry deals with it... I wont fuel the fire when the cameras are focused on yours.
MikeMike: It's sounds to me like you and me (and the majority of my coworkers) are on the same sheet of music here. I had no idea about those kinds of capabilities. Maybe you and your fellow enthusiasts could reach out to the public and/or press? It's not guys like you that worry the commercial aviation industry. And you're right, there are bad apples in all walks of life, and two (or more) sides to every story.
DroneFan: We have, so has our industry. I have filed for my 333 not that it will change the way I fly but I want to be a good representative of the industry. I honestly don't know what the solution to anyone flying anywhere... maybe they all need to squawk something but even then... they are small fly far and fly fast... I would love to see some actual testing done with rotor wash... Id be willing to bet most of the hobby sized "drones" are no match and will be moved away from the AC long before its an issue... my 4' octo frame on the other hand wont... but then again its also a whole lot easier to see.
So, what do you think? We at HelicopterEMS.com believe (strongly) that the explosion of drone popularity and use has gotten ahead of the FAA's ability to comprehend and cope with the ramifications. RC pilots tend to be responsible and rule-following. Drone stunts are all over Youtube, and cause for real concern.
We attended an industry/government conference on this topic sponsored by HAI, and the government's take was that they have a plan for commercial drone use and hobbyist use won't be a problem....
Perhaps if we had more discussions like the one above, between manned aircraft pilots and UAS (unmanned aerial systems - what the FAA calls drones...) pilots we could eliminate some of the hazard.