The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association was already the world’s largest aviation organization before adding a new group of pilots to its ranks in 2017. For the first time in the history of the organization that has served as general aviation’s voice since 1939, many of the newcomers have never occupied a cockpit. In the interest of building a stronger aviation community through inclusion, and with an eye toward a future where more pilots will fly by remote control than otherwise, AOPA created several new membership options, benefits and content targeting drone pilots.
While some might view this as a significant course change, collaboration with all stakeholders to promote safe and accessible airspace is really nothing new for AOPA. Having long been recognized for leadership in aviation safety and advocacy, AOPA has also been deeply involved with developing the current and future regulatory framework for drones, with a decade or more of representing aviation on various panels, committees, and task forces. The association contributed to or commented on virtually every federal regulation and policy created since the drone boom began, always with an eye on safety, and facilitating safe integration of drones in the airspace.
The FAA estimates that 1.3 million pilots will be certificated under Part 107 by 2020. If that forecast comes close to the actual conditions, a great many of them will have no formal aviation training background, nor any connection to a community of fellow aviators, or exposure to a culture of safety. Within just a few years, there will be two remote pilots for each pilot certificated to fly manned aircraft.
All kinds of pilots learned to rely on the AOPA Pilot Information Center, website, and other resources (both online, in print, and in person) for technical guidance and reliable answers to questions. AOPA has cultivated expertise among association staff, both new and long-serving employees. And, an overwhelming majority of AOPA members surveyed support welcoming drone pilots into the organization. AOPA has also expanded its aviation insurance offerings to include policies and coverages for both recreational (hobbyist) and commercial (Part 107) drone pilots, and augmented the Pilot Protection Services offerings (a premium membership option) to include drone-specific legal services and other support.
AOPA Senior Director of UAS Programs Kat Swain said the proposition to drone pilots who are not already AOPA members is simple: “We’re providing the community and resources all pilots need.”