Is the unmanned grass truly greener on the civil side?


It has been an ‘interesting’ couple of years for Unmanned Experts (UMEX), a small team of ex-military UAS/RPAS operators who had spread their wings into the civilian sector. Initially a US-based company, personnel were hand-picked from retiring USAF, US Army, British Army and Royal Air Force to offer consultancy, training and managed services based on their substantial operational UAS expertise. The time seemed right to move into ‘civi street’: the rumors swirling around the uniformed crewrooms were ones of endless contracts, too few companies and a yearning need. This article is designed to give a ‘peek behind the curtain’ into the current civil UAS/RPAS scene.

From a CONUS-perspective, the culture shock was considerable: the far-reaching International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITAR) effectively prevents US-based firms from even discussing most UAS-based topics with non US-persons, especially when outside of the country. An enduring lack-of commitment by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), despite Congressional mandate to the contrary, has brought all commercial UAS operations in US airspace to a halt. If you read about a real-estate firm using unmanned aircraft to photograph properties, then that is likely illegal, and the FAA has prosecuted a number of such enterprises. This FAA reticence has been exacerbated by a set of knee-jerk State-sponsored Privacy legislations (40 out of 50 States have attempted to enact some form of restrictive regulations) which severely ham-strings Law Enforcement use of the platforms, and a number of UAVs currently sit on the shelves at Sheriff’s offices across the Nation. The still substantial DoD market is justifiably competitive especially with Big Government suffering its own ‘credit crunch’. Not much to rejoice about here.

So ‘change or die’ became the watchword, and UMEX started new companies in both England and Australia, where the respective CAA and CASA aerospace agencies have positively embraced UAS integration efforts (the UK currently has nearly 300 registered civilian commercial operators). Outside of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR limits data exchange on larger platforms i.e. 500kgs over 300km) there are few restrictions on providing international UAS services. Note that European or International airspace integration is woefully behind also, but some countries have ‘gone it alone’ to considerable success.

Unmanned Experts UK Ltd, drawing on over 25,000 hours of cutting-edge UAS operations and instruction, produced a comprehensive set of ground school courses ranging from one-day Career Workshops to 4-week UAS Maintenance Courses. Accreditation is an oft used, but little understood, concept but UMEX Courses are approved by George Mason University for CEUs, and we are tied to Southampton and Lincoln Universities in the UK. Since then, UMEX has run courses in the UK, US (for ASPRS amongst others) and Singapore with more planned for Turkey, the Middle East, India and Africa.

There is a growing demand for Consultancy and Managed Services in far-flung places as the utility of inexpensive SUAS comes to bear on a number of industries: open-cast mine mapping in Australia, anti-poacher patrols in Namibia, oil platform security in Iraq and search (& rescue) operations in Canada to name a few. An undercurrent of ‘good’ stories is emerging across the globe to show the true potential that UAS could bring to everyday lives. UMEX is fielding requests from an ever diversifying client base, and the future looks much brighter.

Bottom Line: the civil market is coming to life and the grass is sprouting, but in the US there’s more watering required.

Keven Gambold

Chief Operations Officer

Unmanned Experts

[email protected]

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