Europe, take it easy; you haven’t fallen that far behind!

Europe, take it easy; you haven’t fallen that far behind!

The grousing from the old world suggests a long overdue circle back on Europe. From what limited contact I have had with companies and industry representatives, I’ve gotten the impression that folks believe they are falling behind. I have to politely disagree as Europe has enjoyed years of experience with thousands of certificated operators while the U.S. has had two.  The only thing the Europeans have fallen behind on in my estimation is that the $89 billion (or is it $127 billion) drone industry forecasts is hyperbole.

What I have concluded from visits and conversations with my European friends over the last several years is that they have been working and learning the realities of the drone business. What the drone can and cannot do, data security and that contrary to what they have heard from the headlines, all that glitters may not be drone.

It must be bewildering as you’ve been doing all of these bread and butter jobs i.e. public and private asset management, transportation and other infrastructure projects for years but still have yet to realize the mega billions forecasted for the U.S. market. Maybe it is something in the water, or you just can’t get a good read on tea leaves from the dim light cast by your imported snow blower??

On the upside, I believe that the citizenry has accepted that the drones are not harbingers of a dystopian 1984. Our search engine and social media providers have that locked up tight, and the drone boogeyman is starting to fade here too.

Folks are wound up tighter than an eight-day clock on the Brexit and what that means for drone regulation in the UK as well as those ne’er-do-wells on the mainland.  I’d take a deep breath if I were a citizen of the UK. The UK CAA has in my experience always been approachable and pragmatic. The CAP 722 document was something that I employed as an example of what we should be doing in the U.S. on multiple occasions. The only wildcard here is the regulatory personnel shuffle. Folks come and go and without knowing better are in danger of emulating poor regulatory policy from the U.S. Mainland Europe is a little bit more of a mixed bag, but there is more going on there than meets the eye and the geopolitical situation requires thoughtful consideration.

The Global harmonization effort was difficult for us to support from the side of the Atlantic with little or no legal income stream and the regulatory musical chairs. Yes, Part 107 is very liberal and a low barrier to entry.  Even with regulation that is more favorable than we could have hoped for just a few short years ago, we find ourselves puzzled by the faltering drone titans. Interesting that almost within the same week as Part 107 went live drone giant 3D Robotics as a drone company went under. Two months in and we have witnessed Trimble sell off their interests in Gatewing and Google cleaning house on Project Wing. The latter could just be a one off as the new axiom on the streets of NorCal is Google is where good technology goes to die.

We hear stories in the press of how drones are changing the world one industry at a time, but quietly on Main Street, the drone rush is proving harder to come by. Some have suggested that I am negative, but in reality, I have always conveyed the notion that drones augment existing business plans well and that their promise has always been primarily self-guided data collection. That is what we experienced in the U.S. when commercial drones were legal, before 2007.

Those in the game had experienced much of what is going on in the post Part 107 situation.  The only major difference is that many people did not cease commercial operations and built business and market share in the murky shadows. The best and brightest here in the U.S. have flown, tested and perfected their systems and procedures with little regard for rules as they were “innovating” and no one was going to regulate them or some such drivel. It is all water under the bridge now, but it turns out that it wasn’t only the Luddites down at the FAA that held old Midas at bay. True enough, we didn’t get BVLOS, but there are plenty of blue skies to work with.       

If I could offer some advice, I would suggest that this is not the time to get frantic and that you utilize people to work the integration effort that understands the process, applications and realities of the drone business. Here in the U.S. we are suffering from poor decisions and regulations put together by folks who are unqualified and or pushing products to solve the regulator’s problems that may or may not exist.  Registration springs to mind as a handy example of a conjecture based debacle. Pay to play representation has not always proven to be Bueno.

Beware Der Schönwetterkönig –

It almost goes without saying that product placement advocacy is hardly ever a good thing for the community. Sadly, those that understand that drones are aviation appear to be the only ones that appreciate the folly. Anyway, I am not suggesting that any one person or one group should have the lock on airspace integration for commercial systems. Any stakeholder (or bagholder) who feels compelled and qualified is, by all means, encouraged to seek an audience with their regulating agency.  

I would, however, offer a word of caution on just who one throws their lot in with. This also comes from experience as we are witnessing a plethora of drone advocacy groups which at this point are becoming so numerous and similarly named that for the sake of brevity I will again enlist the help of Monty Python to help dispel the confusion as well as the stringent criteria for association membership – 

Upsetting the applecart named desire –

Europe has realized the actual return on what drones can do while operators in the U.S. are still coming to terms with not so gilded reality. You may be inclined to wring your hands in Europe every time you see a headline that talks about the drone industry mega-billions. However, I’d say look at all of the pivoting and partnerings. Would a successful company with boatloads of money and a promising future need to partner with companies without paying customers? Finally, I pose this question for your consideration: in the Airware acquisition of Redbird, which company in the transaction had an income stream?

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).