Do you know who’s advocating for your use of drones?

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Patrick Egan is the editor of the Americas Desk at sUAS News and host and Executive Producer of the sUAS News Podcast Series, Drone TV and the Small Unmanned Systems Business Exposition. He also serves as the Director of Special Programs for the Remote Control Aerial Photography Association. Patrick has spent the last 10+ years working as a proponent for the business use of unmanned aircraft systems. He’s here to talk about current efforts to integrate drones into the national airspace, local and federal regulations, the state of the drone industry and he’ll share his view on who’s really looking out for your interests as a small commercial drone business. The answer may surprise you and it could involve a mirror.

In This Episode

  • [02:21] Current Efforts. Patrick opens with his assessment of the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee (DAC) and their efforts to develop recommendations for integrating drones into the national airspace. He raises some concerns on the direction and focus of the efforts, such as the need for an effective enforcement program, viability of drone registration, lack of commitment to developing effective safety programs, lack of funding and a lack of strategic direction.
  • [05:01] User Groups. There are three types of users that the FAA should address – the Part 107 holders, AMA registered pilots and the hobbyists. The FAA should be making it easy for Part 107 holders to do business.  Registered AMA pilots flying under their rules really don’t much attention.  The hobbyist (non-AMA member), on the other hand, typically needs more education and enforcement to ensure they are flying safely and within the rules.
  • [10:43] More Rules? While nothing has been put forth, Patrick sees a need for better enforcement and  observes there’s no practical part of a 107 tests.  Drone operators don’t have to demonstrate a practical knowledge of flying drones.  There are also questions related to the design, deployment, cost and funding of the UTM system.
  • [13:47] Underlying Causes. Patrick questions the role of some of the large manufactures and the composition of committees. He also sees the overly optimistic forecasts of the economic impact of the drone industry, as contributing to a challenging environment. Huge investments were made on the hope of rewards, which have not fully materialized.  As the hype subsides, companies are not reporting the type of growth envisioned (in fact, some are laying off workers and cutting back). Patrick talks about how this dynamic may be affecting the policy formulation.
  • [19:11] Impact of Local Regulation. Patrick responds to the rise of local regulations of drone use, by saying that too many varying local ordinances will destroy the commercial drone industry. Local governments do not view the commercial drone industry from an overall perspective.
  • [20:42] Is it an Aircraft or an Appliance?  Patrick raises an interesting question, saying that at times, the industry seems to view drones as aircraft, requiring a specific regulatory framework and at other times, they are seen as an appliance, operating under a different set of regulations. The question takes on greater importance when we consider the various user groups for drones, i.e., Part 107 holders, AMA registered pilots and the hobbyist that may or may not be trying to earn part-time income. Each group had different needs, education and enforcement requirements. Patrick feels there should be a concerted effort to support qualified commercial drone operators
  • [25:52] More on Local Regulations and Federal Preemption. Congressional bills like The Drone Federalism Act seek to give local governments local control of drones within their jurisdiction. Patrick weighs in on how different laws across jurisdictions will make running a drone business difficult and costly.  It just opens a Pandora’s box.
  • [29:15] Threats to Sound Rulemaking. Patrick sees several challenges as the FAA and the DAC work through the rule making process. He advises drone operators to look out for those who are advocating mostly on behalf of the OEMs (not commercial drone operators), arbitrary rules not supported by scientific data, less than qualified people leading the process, a lack of transparency and efficiency, and a lack of social responsibility in decision making. These threats can lead to policies, rules and regulations that may not support the small commercial drone sector
  • [35:02] Sharing Data. Patrick some concerns about where the industry is headed, primarily with respect with DJI’s dominance in the market. Does it make sense for a foreign company to play a strong role in formulating U.S. policy on drone use? He also points out that DJI efforts to deploy a geofencing system requires geospatial data on key facilities, but there’s been little discussion on where will the data be housed, who will have access and whether certain companies or industries will be willing to make the data available. Patrick sees data falling into three key categories – artistic grade, commercial grade and regulatory grade – each having their own access rules and requirements.
  • [40:29] Applications. While there’s been a lot of progress in developing drone technology, there is still a need for better software for object detection, creating software to true autonomous flight (as opposed to automatic flight) and always, the need for actionable data. There is also a need for drone operators to acknowledge that drones are not the panacea for all situations. While a drones can do many things, not all are economically feasible, practical or sustainable as a business proposition. Entrepreneurs need to conduct the right research, with accurate data and market studies, to develop business ideas that will gain traction. Patrick shares several examples of agricultural and medical delivery area where the application sounds good, but is it really practical
  • [49:02] Advice to Drone Operators. Commercial drone operators need to stay aware of the rule making process. Patrick urges operators to contact the FAA, their representatives and others involved in policy making to make them aware of their questions, concerns and support.  It’s the best way to ensure your drone business is protected.
  • [51:02] Closing

Mentioned Links

Featured Image Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash