Growing up near a small airport outside of Pittsburgh, Brad Palmer always had an interest in flying. A career in aviation was inevitable. He took flying lessons as a teenager, but didn’t earn his pilot certificate until college.
“While learning to fly, I worked out on the line supporting the mechanics,” he recalls. “Pittsburgh winters were cold, and I quickly realized I would rather be in the cockpit than out on that cold ramp.”
Brad became a flight instructor and then a check pilot instructor at a part 141 pilot school. He flew for a private business ferrying single and multi-engine airplanes across the country. Piedmont Airlines hired him at age 20. During his ten years with the company, he also worked with the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA).
Brad started his FAA career as a general aviation (GA) operations inspector in the Airmen Training and Certification Branch at the agency’s DC headquarters. He transitioned to the FAA’s Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) in Richmond, Virginia, and later returned to FAA headquarters as an air carrier operations inspector and program manager for the pilot records database. “During my time developing the database, I had the opportunity to be in contact with families affected by the Colgan Air Flight 3407 accident in 2009,” Brad said. “It was a very sobering yet rewarding experience that reminded me how the work we do affects people’s lives in a positive way.”
When the Department of Transportation created the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Integration Pilot Program (IPP) in 2017, Brad’s FAA career took a new direction. Under the IPP, which directed the FAA to partner with state, local, and tribal governments and private sector entities to accelerate safe drone integration, Brad helped develop rules to support more complex low-altitude operations. “I think the best part of working on the IPP was seeing the communication and openness between the FAA, local, state, and tribal governments, and leading edge industry partners,” Brad observed. “We were all working toward the common goal of integrating drones safely into our national airspace system.”
Now, as manager of the General Aviation and Commercial Division, Brad oversees the teams charged with developing and maintaining regulations and policies on pilot training, certification, and operating rules governing GA, as well as promoting aviation safety throughout the country. His wide-ranging portfolio includes managing the operational environment for everything from drones, to large commercial airplanes, helicopters, and balloons, along with the outreach efforts of the FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) and this magazine. Brad’s division is staffed with employees in 30 states.
Recent accomplishments include signing a bilateral agreement on pilot certification with the European Aviation Safety Agency, relief for certain persons and operations during the COVID-19 public health emergency, and issuing three air carrier certificates to UAS operators.
“Looking ahead, the biggest challenge for the FAA’s Flight Standards Service will be safely integrating new entrants without adversely impacting traditional GA operations,” Brad says. “With UAS growth and the development of UAS airspace management, we must work swiftly to further integrate — rather than segregate — these operations with traditional manned aviation.”
“Safety is always the top priority,” he notes. “Leveraging available technologies to decrease the GA fatal accident rate and integrate UAS will help us continue to increase safety.”
Paul Cianciolo is an associate editor and the social media lead for FAA Safety Briefing. He is a U.S. Air Force veteran, and an auxiliary airman with Civil Air Patrol.