sUAS News interview with RCAPA President, Rick Connolly

Patrick Egan

The 5-year anniversary of the FAA decree provided an excellent occasion to interview the head of the only genuine UAS grassroots advocacy organization on the planet. Like, I really need to remind anyone that it’s been several arduous years with still no policy for small business and academic users. There’s no shortage of frustration from the community and the guy who can usually best surmise the feeling of that community is Rick Connolly.

The reader of this story should get a little different perspective of the inner workings of the process both with the FAA.

What do you think are some of the biggest failings of the FAA concerning this integration process?

(RC)“15~20 times a month we get folks calling who are wanting to build a business around UAV platforms. Business has invested thousands in this industry only to find out later on that it is illegal. FAA policies have been very unclear with no clear-cut integration processes, message or guidelines. They are not following their own basic mission statement which is to keep the NAS safe due to a lack of effectively communicating with the general public…”

Well, I think they’d say that they put it up on the website.

(RC)“What’s on the website has only perpetuated the confusion. Is it policy, guidance or law?” “I don’t think they have clarified that, but whatever it is the FAA has shown that they do not have the ability to enforce this growing segment of aviation. The RCAPA has worked “diligently” to keep folks informed of FAA’s vague policies since the beginning……this has been a very bumpy road for us with a lot of push back and disbelief from our core members. The insurance company underwriting a large number of polices for UAS’s does not even understand what the FAA’s policy is. They have been asking us for clarification and/or something in writing…..we are sad to tell them there really isn’t anything. It appears like only something will get done about this is if Congress or something of that nature mandates it or a severe UAS accident catches the public’s eye. ”

I know from my own experience fielding these calls that it is usually a mish mash mainly from folks who’ve already purchased a system and been fed some erroneous information by a guy trying to make a sale. Some of my favorites are; “If I fly over private property the FAA has no jurisdiction.” The FAA doesn’t even know what their policy is… so they won’t bother you.” I give free aerials and only charge for ground shots.” “I’ll just keep things on the lowdown so I don’t get caught.”

I have a notebook where I jot them down as potential dissertation titles for my MBA. ;-)

(RC)“Look, they have held the UAS industry and growth hostage since Feb 13, 2007 by basically shutting commercial operations down. Since then, other countries have been able to surpass the USA in developing this technology while the USA is in the “holding pattern”, with many small business running out of gas”

I think they’d disagree with you and try and point to all kinds of progress with a straight face.

(RC)“What results came out of the first ARC? Even the members that were part of the process feel nothing came of it and all their hard work was put in the circular file. Why are they not following their own charter for ARCII and allowing the folks with a vested interest be on it?? Maybe they should reset this UAS ARC, or the entire process, as it is not following its own charter?? There is still no accountability within the FAA, they have yet to come out with a concise and workable documents for UAS operations in five years…..as a business model that is simply ridiculous”

In closing, what do you think are some of the bigger contributions made by the RCAPA to the global airspace integration effort?

(RC)“Well, the RCAPA as a group had outlined basic safety guidelines prior to the FAA crackdown. We tried to get out in front of this issue and were providing leadership for small business in this area. We had tests that allowed people to get insurance, and best practices that folks could follow for safe cooperative use of the NAS. Now we focus more on giving small business and universities a voice in the public process. Unfortunately, the FAA does not seem to have a clear-cut action plan or direction regarding UAS integration polices. This makes it hard for us to have a clear cut road map to support our members.”

A little background on Rick…

Rick has held the office of President of the Remote Control Aerial Photography Association (RCAPA), since 2004. A graduate of Embry Riddle University and worked for Honeywell certifying turbine engines for 16 years. He went out on his own to start a composite business manufacturing small aircraft parts, yet another business that suffered with the demise of Eclipse Jet saga. They have since branched out into boats, racecar bodies and industrial parts.

* I had wanted to have this out yesterday for the actual anniversary. However, I was in the Sierra’s about 18 miles NE of where Marshal found gold in 49, snowed in with no Internet.

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Patrick Egan
Editor in Field, sUAS News Americas Desk | 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. Experience in the field includes assignments with the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Battle Lab investigating solutions on future warfare research projects. Instructor for LTA (Lighter Than Air) ISR systems deployment teams for an OSD, U.S. Special Operations Command, Special Surveillance Project. 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).