Did the Bottom Fall out of the Sky? – Part 107 pilots plummet

sUAS News Twitter followers may have seen me lamenting about some of the latest FOIA requests made by us to the FAA. The newest query made on March 11, 2019, had to do with the number of “current” Remote Pilot Certificates on file. Below is a cut and paste of the reply:

In reference to your request for information via FOIA. 

Question: The number of “current” Remote Pilot Certificates on file.

Answer: The FAA does not maintain a database that shows the number of RPC holders who are current.  RPCs holders are current if their initial knowledge test was taken within the previous 24 calendar months, or if they hold an RPC and have taken the RPC recurrent knowledge test within the previous 24 calendar months.  Further, if a person holds a pilot certificate issued under part 61 and meets their flight review requirements, they are current if they’ve passed either an initial or recurrent training course within the previous 24 calendar months.

As of 3/15/19, the airman registry indicates 126,299 individuals hold an RPC certificate.  As of 3/15/19, 7,306 individuals have taken the RPC recurrent knowledge test.  We presume these 7,306 individuals are RPC holders who passed their initial knowledge test in 2016 and 2017 and were nearing the end of their currency.  We can verify that any individual RPC has passed the recurrent knowledge test or training course, but the information is not populated on the individual airman’s record.

I find the first paragraph a little puzzling, as this seems to be something that one might want to keep track of for funding purposes or excuse plausibility when testifying to Congress about the reasons behind the latest 737 self-certification fustercluck.

Paragraph two is where things get interesting. “As of 3/15/19, 7,306 individuals have taken the RPC recurrent knowledge test.” If we look at the numbers from March 31, 2017, +/- 39,000 people had Remote Pilot Certificates. Yes, give it a reread.

We are talking about a drop of over 80%. Recurrent test takers (if you are the glass half full type) are 18.7%—and they passed, I assume.

This information can only mean a couple of things. One, the estimates for both pilots and valuation were so overblown it is not even funny, or the compliance issues are mushrooming way out of control. Whatever the case the numbers are almost too hard to believe at first blush and serve to question the millions spent on the UASIO office budget or even all of the money NASA is spending on the grand UTM.

I have been suggesting for some time now that we determine what is transpiring in the National Airspace System (NAS) on any given day. I am still a firm believer in using science to identify the needs before we implement knee-jerk regulation that hampers our competitiveness or spend money designing and building elaborate and expensive systems we may not need.

This latest bit of information from the FAA only serves to confirm the notion that the airspace integration effort could benefit from better oversight, participation from vetted SMEs, and the scientific method.

If you don’t follow the @suasnews or @thedronedealer on Twitter, you may want to think about rectifying that.

With thanks to Dronetribe for the blue line.

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Patrick Egan
Editor in Field, sUAS News Americas Desk | Patrick Egan is the editor of the Americas Desk at sUAS News and host and Executive Producer of the sUAS News Podcast Series, Drone TV and the Small Unmanned Systems Business Exposition. Experience in the field includes assignments with the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Battle Lab investigating solutions on future warfare research projects. Instructor for LTA (Lighter Than Air) ISR systems deployment teams for an OSD, U.S. Special Operations Command, Special Surveillance Project. Built and operated commercial RPA prior to 2007 FAA policy clarification. On the airspace integration side, he serves as director of special programs for the RCAPA (Remote Control Aerial Photography Association).