What Is A Pilot?

From NAFI's Chair

What Is A Pilot?
I n a recent conversation with a good friend who's a flight instructor, NAFI member, and Part 135 pilot, the subject of "drones") came up. He told me that he hated the fact that Part 107 certificate holders were considered pilots.    
I pointed out to him that I have a Remote Pilot certificate myself. His response was something to the effect that, "Yes, but you got that on the basis of your commercial certificate and flight review." What my friend was referring to was the ease in which a Part 61 pilot with a current flight review can obtain a Remote Pilot certificate under Part 107. 
That conversation and the cover article by Joe Clark and John Robbins in the latestMentor magazine prompted these thoughts. As I've stated in the past, with the ease of use and the popularity of sUASs, entire new industries are springing up around them. In terms of certification alone, the FAA forecasts that there will be 301,200 remote pilots by the year 2022. By that date, the FAA predicts that there will be between 415,000 and 717,000 non-model aircraft in the registry. This is explosive growth by any definition.
That begs the question which is at the root of my friend's conversation and the article - are the people who are entering the system "pilots?" That is, regardless of the rating they've received, are they well trained enough to be in National Airspace System, interacting with manned aircraft as well as other unmanned aerial systems? Given the number of aircraft and some of the more ambitious plans of companies like Amazon, as well as local law enforcement and fire/rescue officials, this is a conversation that is being voiced in both the manned and unmanned aviation worlds.
Regardless of how you may feel about remote pilots and drones, this is the future - unmanned systems will not go away and we best embrace that fact. At this early stage, this is the opportunity for the flight instruction community to work with the regulators, manned aircraft pilots, and the unmanned flight industry to successfully and safely integrate both the new technology and its operators into the system. There are a lot of very smart people working on these issues, and more. And, universally, I've found that the newcomers to aviation, both the remote pilots and the manufacturers, are eager for our input and guidance. This is true at both an industry and an individual level.
So to answer my friend's question: Yes, by FAA regulation, drone operators are pilots. To answer his concern: Let's help them be pilots through our outreach.
Bob Meder,
NAFI Board Chair 
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