Unmanned Aircraft Demonstrations at Your Show: What You Need to Know

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In the not too distant past, drones and unmanned aircraft (UAS) were fairly rare –only seen by the aviation enthusiasts that loved tinkering through a drawer of electronics at Radio Shack.  The first remote controlled aircraft were bulky and required a small team of engineers to assemble.  How the world has changed. It is now possible to go online, buy one of thousands of remote controlled aircraft and be airborne in less than 8 hours for less than 50 dollars. The remote controlled and unmanned aircraft market has grown exponentially in the past five years.  The exciting capabilities of these aircraft range from quad copters the size of a quarter to stunning high definition aerial shots of events to small scale replica aircraft.

The rapid emergence of unmanned aircraft has caught the world — and maybe more importantly to the air show industry — the regulatory authorities by surprise.  When considering the fact that the UAS industry has projected the civil UAS industry to reach eleven billion dollars by 2024, it is little surprise that the FAA is working hard to keep up with the growing demand.  Due to the massive interest by the general public, the demand for UAS at air shows has also increased.  With the increased demand, it is important to be aware of the rules and regulations surrounding this once niche industry.

The FAA has set up a beta test program to provide exemptions to air shows wishing to host a UAS demonstration.  This beta test program has been in place for a couple years but –in the absence of formal policy— will be used more extensively in 2016. In the event that your air show plans on exhibiting UAS demonstrations, it will be required to participate in the beta test program.  All regional air show specialists for the FAA have been briefed on this program and are the first point of contact for air show organizers.  Not less than ninety days out, the organizer should make contact with their regional aviation events specialist (the full list may be found on the FAA’s air show website here) and request enrollment in the beta test. The regional specialist will then begin the process of coordinating with the various FAA divisions required to obtain the appropriate waiver.

If you have any questions on whether or not your air show requires participation in this program, contact Dan Hollowell at Hollowell@airshows.aero.

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The International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) is a trade association dedicated to building and sustaining a vibrant air show industry to support its membership. To achieve this goal, ICAS demands its members operate their air show business at only the highest levels of safety, professionalism, and integrity.