For the first 100 years of aviation most of society’s interaction with aircraft was that of a passenger. The complexities of flight were left to the professionals to handle. The dawn of the small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS), or drone, has changed the course of the industry and placed aviation in the hands of the masses. Innovation and application soared to new heights, but the forward progress has also created a knowledge void.
The main misperception about the aviation industry is that flying an aircraft is hard. Being a pilot is not for everyone, however manipulating the controls of an aircraft is within the capabilities of most with the desire to learn. However, operating an aircraft as a safe and efficient participant in the National Airspace System is difficult. Drones have given the public a false impression that the difficulties of aviation have been solved, but in reality, drones have only simplified flying not aviation.
Whether realized or not, every drone flight is participating in the greater airspace system. Often these flights are harmless, often illegal in one manor or another, but harmless. The safety of aviation relies on a concerted effort to identify and mitigate risk. Here lies the problem, most sUAS flights are harmless due to chance, not planning. An ignorant or negligent flight doesn’t end in a mid-air collision because the other aircraft happens to be absent.
This is the knowledge gap. Most airspace is void of traffic 99% of the time. While airspace is a huge volume of air, most of manned aviation happens in very predictable columns and corridors. Knowing how to be a safe participant in the National Airspace system allows a sUAS pilot to analyze where they are flying and make smart decisions based on risk levels vice chance.
Until the knowledge gap is recognized and adopted by the public, sUAS operations will continue to be a game of luck. Yes, you are probably more likely to be struck by lighting while flying your drone than to have a mid-air collision. That doesn’t make you any less culpable.