Patrick Egan, sUAS NewsHow much do you really know about the drone industry?

For many of us who have only been in the industry for a few years, that answer is all too often … not a whole lot.  Fortunately, there are individuals that have been working with unmanned systems for years. The historical perspectives and knowledge that these individuals have is extremely valuable, particularly to anyone thinking about creating a drone based business.

Today’s guest on the Drone Radio Show is Patrick Egan, the editor of the Americas Desk at sUAS News and host and Executive Producer of sUAS News Podcast Series, Drone TV and the Small Unmanned Systems Business Expo.  His field experience includes assignments with the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Battle Lab investigating solutions on future warfare research projects. He was Instructor for LTA (Lighter Than Air) ISR systems deployment teams for a OSD, U.S. Special Operations Command, Special Surveillance Project.  He has built and operated commercial RPA prior to 2007 FAA policy clarification. On the airspace integration side, he serves as director of special programs for the RCAPA (Remote Control Aerial Photography Association) and has collaborated with a variety of industry groups and the FAA on a variety of airspace integration issues.  In this podcast, Patrick takes us on a deeper dive of the drone regulatory issues, exploring some of the issues that don’t always make on the web or in the news stories.

In This Episode

  • [01:45] Historical Look at the FAA. Patrick discusses some of the shortcomings of the FAA’s historical approach to regulating and integrating UAS in the national air space, including a lack of hard data to base regulatory decisions and no long term vision of the role of UAS in the airspace or economy.
  • [04:18] Missed Opportunities. The FAA did not understand the commercial applications of the technology. For many years, it was legal to fly UAS for commercial use. There were acceptable guidelines, insurance and procedures for flying. So there was an existing framework on which to expand the commercial industry, which was not used.
  • [07:03] Rise of the Consumer Market. The entry of UAS into the consumer market caught many off-guard. Many underestimated the UAS market, partly because of the lack of understanding of the growth in the RC hobby market. When li-poly batteries and brush & brushless motors became available, the barriers to entry into the hobby market fell dramatically. Many did not see or understand the implications.
  • [o9:42] Muddling Through. Until a thorough analysis of the technical aspects of integrating UAS into the national airspace is completed, much of what is happening verges on muddling through. Patrick identified a few needs related to visual acuity of the human eye, sense and avoid systems, understand the risk to general aviation aircraft, crash analysis, etc.
  • [11:58] UAS Registration. Patrick raises concerns regarding the FAA UAS registration, including a lack of aviation engineering expertise in the formulation of the procedures, privacy concerns and lopsided penalties.
  • [16:50] Catching Up. Since many were caught off guard by the consumer market for drones, there has been a rush to catch up. Patrick describes an environment where the FAA seems to be operating in crisis mode, reacting to events rather than have a long term plan or understanding the ripple effect of policy decisions.
  • [18:34] Testing. Patrick talks about a long-standing need for data collection and testing, going into further detail on visual acuity testing, which is plays a key role in sense and avoid systems, leading eventually to flying without visual line of sight. Beyond visual line of sight may not be possible until 2035 or much later. Same is true on visual line of sight – no one knows what the acceptable distance is for operating at visual line of sight.
  • [24:47] Industry Impacts. Such unknowns will affect the growth cycle of many UAS applications and industries. Unless individuals and investors have the facts on the technology side of UAS systems, there is a risk of making the wrong business decision, entering the market at the wrong time or competing in an oversaturated market.
  • [28:39] The Path Forward. Patrick provides some advice and guidance based on his experience and historical knowledge of the drone industry. He advocates doing research and recognizing that operating a large drone based business is similar to operating commercial aviation enterprise. Avoid the OEM drone manufacturer, as that would be a challenge at this time. For small businesses, get educated, define your customer, get your business plan, liability insurance, obtain some sort of pilot’s license and select a flight envelop that fits within the visual line of sight.
  • [32:51] Closing