Ask A Pilot – Getting a drone? Please, Know Before You Fly

Thank you to Leadership from the Cockpit followers for submitting great questions for our new “Ask a Pilot” segment. The topic today is unmanned aircraft systems (you may know them as “drones”)—a hot issue on Capitol Hill and in news headlines across the country. Capt. Tim Canoll, ALPA’s president, provides the answers to three interesting questions from followers. 

Question 1 – (Derek P.): I’ve seen a lot of news coverage recently on pilots’ reporting drones flying near their aircraft. What’s the pilot’s immediate reaction when this happens? Do pilots change their flight path to avoid collision?

Capt. Canoll: Hello, Derek. Thank you for sending us this question because this is a serious concern for ALPA pilots. From the pilot’s point of view, it’s extremely difficult to see the UAS because they are small, move much more slowly than we do, and don’t stand out from the background of clouds or a cityscape. It is impossible to avoid what you can't see, especially if you don't see it until the last second.  While pilots are highly trained to handle uncommon occurrences or unexpected safety threats, in aviation it is important that we work to mitigate any potential threats, not introduce them into our airspace.

Currently, in order to help track these incidents, we advise all pilots who encounter a UAS to immediately report it to air traffic control, follow their company guidance, and file a report with the FAA. This will help provide critical data to make our national airspace system safer for all of us.

Question 2 – (Nancy T.): If I plan on getting a drone, do I need approval from the FAA to fly it? Where can I get information on the rules for flying it? 

Capt. Canoll: We encourage all operators to know the rules. We strongly encourage anyone planning to fly a UAS to visit “Know Before You Fly” before taking it to the skies. This website provides everything you need to know about unmanned aircraft, the rules, and how to safely and responsibly fly a UAS. 

Question 3 – (Steve K.): Do pilots have technology in the cockpit that would help spot a drone? 

Capt. Canoll: Currently, most UAS used for hobby or recreation are not equipped with the technology necessary for airline pilots to see them on their cockpit displays or for air traffic controllers to see them on their radar.  By adding this collision avoidance technology to UAS, we can see where the unmanned aircraft are operating and avoid them. This technology is just one element of ALPA’s four-part solution on how to safely integrate UAS into our national airspace system.

Interested in participating in Ask a Pilot? Send your aviation-related questions to, use the subject line “Ask a Pilot”, and we may feature it in a future segment.

Categories: Ask a Pilot