We’re Back In Business

The announcement and implementation of C.F.R 14 Part 107 that will come August once again make the drone business a legal enterprise. While many agree that it is long overdue, it appears less onerous (the devil may still be in the details), than many had feared and is something that we can work with. My hats off to the folks at the FAA for promulgating something that is favorable to business and fosters interest in careers in aviation. These are not new sentiments as these comments are in line with those made about the NPRM. The licensing was a given as far as I was concerned. The regulator has to have something it can use for enforcement, and the pilot certificate is a tried and tested methodology for encouraging folks to conform to the FARs.

As an industry, we have spent years making a living in the gray economy with little regulatory guidance, certification, insurance or other trappings of business. While some may not, many in this industry consider themselves to be experts after flying consumer drowns around for several months or years. I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you sunshine, but you are in the big leagues now. Besides a certification and other measures of compliance, tort law and insurance claims will most certainly shape this industry moving forward.

Not having rules from the FAA bred a situation where fly-by-night operators offered drone services for everything under the sun. Lack of regulation ushered in a culture of denial (the direct opposite of the aviation culture of safety), in so much as folks called themselves developers, amateurs, innovators and any other catchy self-descriptions that kept them in the legal “clear”.

Most of the folks that get over the FAA regulatory hurdle will soon be getting an education in business economics, supply and demand, as well as free market competition. I’ll employ the low hanging fruit example of roof drones. From first blush, someone might think that all they need to do is to take some pretty pictures of Mr. Smith’s abode, give Mr. Smith his photos and be on their merry way with the check in hand. Simple math on the back of a Buffalo Wild Wings napkin would suggest that you’ll be tooling down to the bank to visit the mega-millions all those drone forecasts correctly predicted you’d earn.

Checking out of the neighborhood Best Buy with drone under arm hardly makes one an expert in business let alone map making, SAR (Search And Rescue), agriculture, security, or construction just to name a few. While there is obvious value in drones as a service ( I know, some dillweed trademarked it), we need to realize that some of these fields require training and others certification.

Many services are regulated for good reason. For example, most people will only use certified home inspectors, as the certification comes with an assumption of accountability and consumer recourse. Then there is the matter of liability and errors and omissions insurance. I doubt you’ll get E&O insurance coverage without certification. If for instance, during your paid drone inspection a defect went unnoticed and it resulted in a situation that required mold remediation, the potential loss or liability could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. That would be more than most operators could profit in many years of business.

Now the clever people have finally come around to the notion that it’s about data. However, there are only several grades of data that make dollars and sense. We’ve heard the example of the upside down wedding cake for classes of airspace. The conventional cake model for data is a three layer affair with the first layer being a variety of pretty pictures, the second, commercial grade drone data e.g. work for TV, Movies or anything else used to sell goods and or services, and right under the topper is regulatory grade drone data. This data is the high quality product that industry and business will use to indemnify themselves from liability and negligence lawsuits as well as government non compliance fines.

Users and would be users of this technology from August on bear the responsibility to act in the best interest of the community as well as those still to join our ranks in the future of aviation. I wish all of the new entrepreneurs the best of luck on your future endeavors.

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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).