Unlicensed pilots operating drone aircraft in Illinois airspace

BY NOLAN PETERSON Medill Reports

The FAA said it has met a key congressional requirement to streamline the integration of unmanned drone aircraft, known as UAVs, into U.S. airspace by 2015 – allowing public agencies to operate drones with fewer restrictions.

The Illinois Army National Guard has already been operating its Shadow drone in Illinois airspace for six months, but Army regulations do not require certified pilots to remotely operate drones – leaving some aviation experts to question what training requirements should be expected of drone pilots now that their airframes share the sky with domestic commercial aviation.

Keith Mackey, an aviation safety consultant, has more than 30,000 hours of pilot flight time in aircraft such as the Boeing 747. He said remotely flying an aircraft can be a lot more difficult than manned flight, and real experience as a pilot is necessary for the safe operation of drones in domestic skies.

“I suggest that there is going to be a steep learning curve, with the real potential for accidents,” said Mackey, who has logged more than 6,000 hours as a flight instructor. “A lot of people not steeped in reality and without much experience in aviation are making decisions on paper that look like a good idea, but are probably not going to work.”

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