Military, Regulatory

Helo Line Pilots Have Seat on New Drone Panel

By S.L. Fuller | September 16, 2016
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A notable milestone marked today’s first meeting in Washington of the FAA’s new Drone Advisory Committee (DAC): a representative of helicopter line pilots was at the table.

Commercial airline pilots have long been a fixture at FAA-industry deliberations on safety and policy decisions, in the form of an Air Line Pilots Assn. representative or two. ALPA was the only group that had two members on last year’s FAA task force on creating a small drone registry; an ALPA rep also sits on the new drone advisory committee.

But so too does a representative of the Professional Helicopter Pilots Assn. (PHPA). That union’s president, Steven Rush was among the 35 members named last month by FAA Administrator Michael Huerta to the committee to advise the aviation agency on integrating drones into civil U.S. airspace. The only other rotorcraft representative on the panel is Helicopter Assn. International President Matt Zuccaro.

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Nearly 400 individuals and organizations that expressed interest in serving on the committee, according to the FAA. It is chaired by Intel CEO Brian Krzanich. The inaugural meeting is at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“It took a long time for the line pilots to get a voice at the table on committees such as this,” Rush told R&WI. “It’s been a long time coming but we’re there. And that’s been my goal for the last 15 years: to get our voice heard at this level.”

PHPA is a council of the Office and Professional Employees International Union. It represents the interests of member air medical helicopter and fixed-wing pilots and assists in collective bargaining, among other duties.

“Just over 1,500 of our members fly the air ambulance helicopters, and the drones operate pretty much in their environment,” said Rush. “So our major thrust will be to see how the integration into the airspace is going to affect [the pilots].”

Rush joined the U.S. Army career in 1970 and, after receiving flight training at Fort Rucker, Alabama, served in South Korea for a year before leaving active duty. He then went to Alaska to fly 135 ops on the Alaska pipeline. He ultimately returned to Fort Rucker as a civilian flight instructor. Rush served 16 yr in the Army Reserve.

Rush has been active in PHPA since he helped establish it in 2002; he became president in 2012. Rush said he jumped at the chance to join the drone committee.

“I think everybody’s going to have their say, and I’m sure they’ll come to consensus on all the issues,” Rush said of the members. “These are industry leaders across the spectrum. … The manufacturers, the regulatory people, the airline pilots are there, the helicopter pilots are there, so it’s going to be very interesting.”

The creation of the DAC stems from the successful stakeholder-based Unmanned Aircraft Systems Registration Task Force and the MicroUAS Aviation Rulemaking Committee. While they were established for a single purpose with limited duration, the FAA created the new committee as a long-lasting panel under the RTCA, a federal advisory committee. The drone group will help identify and prioritize integration challenges and improvements, including development of future regulations and policies.

Modeled after the FAA’s NextGen Advisory Committee, the drone group is to meet at least three times a year.

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