When the Wright brothers made the first manned flight on December 17, 1903, few could have imagined that air travel would soon be a routine part of our everyday lives. In the hundred years since then, air travel has become the very safest form of transportation available to us — safer than bus, train, rail, and the car you probably drive every day.
We take safe, reliable air travel completely for granted. In the U.S., approximately two million people board airplanes every day. We count on them to ferry us to important business meetings, take us to vacation destinations, and deliver us to our friends and family for holidays.
But how did flying machines — once science fiction — become the single safest way to travel?
The aviation industry embraces a “safety culture.” Competing airlines and manufacturers share safety information with one another in a relentless effort to continually make aviation safer. For more than 20 years, this work has been coordinated by two organizations — the Commercial Aviation Safety Team (CAST) and the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC), the latter bringing together general aviation operators and manufacturers to help improve GA safety. In this neutral environment, industry and government work together to identify risks and develop best practices and innovations to mitigate them.
Now, this same spirit of collaboration has come to the drone industry.
Inspired by the aviation safety teams that have come before us, the Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team (UAST) brings more than 40 companies in the unmanned and manned aviation industries together with representatives from the FAA, NASA, the U.S. Air Force and other government organizations. It is a brain trust that is singularly focused on building the safest future possible for drones.
Our goal is to continue to improve safety for the drones of today, while laying the groundwork for a future in which the more autonomous, more complex, and more sophisticated drones of tomorrow safely share our skies.
It is a distinct honor to have been selected by my peers as the inaugural industry co-chair of the UAST, alongside co-chair Earl Lawrence, who heads the FAA’s Office of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration. With our partners in the UAST, we’ll help the industry coalesce around research initiatives, procedures, and innovations that will accelerate the safe deployment of drones. Together, the members of the UAST will develop data-driven, consensus-based recommendations that can be implemented by industry at large.
The UAST will help us safely open the skies to drones, and will bring us another step closer to on-demand personal mobility (flying cars) and myriad other innovations in flight that will benefit people in amazing new ways.
Not long from now, drones will bring flight to our neighborhoods and communities: delivering packages, conducting inspections, assisting first responders, and perhaps even taking us to work. Drones will become as ordinary as cars — and potentially even more impactful.
The Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team has a critical role to play in making this vision for the future a reality, and I’m honored to have the opportunity to contribute to the team’s work as its industry co-chair.
Author Ben is cofounder & CEO of AirMap. He has flown remote-control aircraft since childhood & is an FAA-certified Airline Transport Pilot and Flight Instructor.