The UAS Pilots Code – Best Practices in a Disruptive Landscape

The UAS Pilots Code – Best Practices in a Disruptive Landscape

Michael S. Baum, JD, MBA, ATP

The National Airspace System (NAS) has seen over a century of improvements to flight safety, but it now faces profound changes. There is a massive, accelerating influx of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), and new, inexperienced UAS pilots and operators, that must effectively—and safely—integrate with manned aviation. There is, of course, only one NAS. We all share it, and our lives and safety depend on its integrity.
These new UAS operations reflect unprecedented levels of experiment and innovation. Novel aircraft and applications are entering the NAS, and UAS are rapidly advancing toward operations beyond visual line-of-sight, semi- or fully autonomous operations, and the carriage of passengers.

UAS integration to the NAS is proving disruptive to long-established safety practices, and poses ethical, technical and regulatory challenges. This environment underscores the adage that the law lags behind technology. There is a need for clear and fundamental guidance for the UAS community as it strives for operational safety and professionalism.

In response, the Aviators Code Initiative and University Aviation Association recently released the UAS Pilots Code. The Code offers recommendations to advance UAS safety, airmanship, and professionalism, providing guidance for new UAS aviators who may be unfamiliar with aviation safety culture and practices.

The Code is designed to foster a common understanding across a highly diverse user community, guiding UAS pilots and operators toward an understanding of established aviation safety practices, informing manned pilots of the basics of unmanned aviation, and assisting regulators and flight safety organizations. The UAS Pilots Code is also forward-looking, anticipating development of new, more complex and automated operations and systems.

The Code offers broad guidance—a set of values—to help UAS pilots confront real-world challenges. It will help pilots and operators develop standard operating procedures (SOPs), effective risk management, and safety management systems (SMS).

Because UAS pilot certification typically does not require formal flight instruction, there is an acute need for non-regulatory operational guidance. The Code emphasizes self-training and education under the guidance of experienced UAS pilots or mentors.

The UAS Pilots Code presents safety, training, risk management, and technology as principles in seven sections: (1) General Responsibilities of UAS Pilots, (2) Manned Aircraft and People on the Surface, (3) Training and Proficiency, (4) Security and Privacy, (5) Environmental Issues, (6) Use of Technology, and (7) Advancement of UAS Aviation. The principles are illustrated by sample recommended practices that provide extensive guidance to aid in implementation. The Code is customizable so that it can suit any particular operation.

The UAS Pilots Code is offered in three versions: an annotated version intended for managers, policy administrators or instructors, a condensed version intended for pilot use, and a one-page introductory abbreviated version.

The UAS Pilots Code is a unique, timely and authoritative tool, the product of extensive research and expert peer-review. It should serve as a model for developing UAS standards and safety practice. We recommend that you evaluate and adapt the UAS Pilots Code for your own operation. It is available without charge at