When Will Legacy Aviation Move In On drones?

This undated image provided by Google shows a Project Wing drone vehicle during delivery. Google's secretive research laboratory is trying to build a fleet of drones designed to bypass earthbound traffic so packages can be delivered to people more quickly. The ambitious program announced Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, escalates Google's technological arms race with rival Amazon.com Inc., which also is experimenting with self-flying vehicles to carry merchandise bought by customers of its online store. (AP Photo/Google)

Honestly, I figured theyd be in by now. AOPA has been talking about unmanned pilots becoming part of their ranks since 2008. HAIs President Matt Zuccaro made waves within his organisation when writing an op-ed about how helicopter pilots would make great UAS pilots.

Aviation has been around for a few years and just as with rules, there are many resources available to the new and experienced pilot, remote or otherwise. I think that AOPA is a great fit to help guide the drone pilot into the aviation realm. If you havent already done so, you should log onto their site and poke around at what is available for their members, HAI too.

I first recognised the humble drones as the future of aviation at the 2009 Par is Air Show. Mock-ups and models festooned many of the vendor booths. Offerings ran the gambit between simple RCfoamies painted air superiority grey all the way up to the zenith Israeli pavilion. The pavilion resembled a futuristic car dealership with UAS of various makes,models and sizes, whose designs were varied, diverse and could accommodate almost limitless end-user applications.

It had occurred to me that these folks wouldn’t  be wasting time and money on fairytales. At the time, they may not have known how the puzzle fits together but they saw the pieces in the box. Part 107 is bringing things into focus as regulations establish the ground rules for commerce.On the drone side of the house, we have programmers and end-users going on business as usual while the aviation folks look on. The elephant in the room is the huge advocacy vacuum that exists and I think that after the circus tent comes down we’ll see the serious interests move in and help the droners join the existing aviation community.

The dirty little secret

I hate to be the one to burst the forecast bubble, but many in the drone world have not been able to reinvent the aviation wheel. The technologies disconnect lies in the idea that new technology can do new things for less money. Sure,with drones we can collect data in new ways, but any and all regulation erodes profitability. Uber is a great example of finding the profit in skirting regulation. I dont want to go too far down that path, but reality of regulation is starting to rear its ugly head.

We are starting to see some of the same issues in manned aviation surface in the unmanned aviation world. Notably, folks who are not professional data collectors are having a hard time gaining traction against those who are.A large part of the drone promise has always been self-guided data collection. Some would be entrepreneurs are beginning to come to grips with the realisation that they may only be the $10-hour guy and not the $45-hour guy the industry forecasts promised  they’d be. It appears that the only thing missing in the drone rush is the easy money.

Perspective from a business standpoint

The next six to eighteen months should prove interesting in the drone ecosystem. Will mistakes continue to be tolerated or will these companies realise they are just digging their own graves? Hard to make a profit reinventing the wheel, but there is no shortage of startups et al pivoting and partnering their way to profitability. Most
of these companies are developing products that have existed for years and are aviation quality. The real kicker is the existing aviation vendors have customers that pay. That is a rarity or one off in the drone ecosystem. The OEMs aren’t far behind; enterprise is hard to do with retrograde training wheels.The wrong people making the wrong decisions are going to cut into future profits and expose vulnerabilities in the old business plan.

The big players suffer from a lack intellectual honesty too. Folks still try to convince me that the 800-pound gorillas have the best and the brightest working for them. Really, The whizz kids over at the online retailer were successful in getting language written into 107 that precludes them from accomplishing their stated goals. The promise of saving the world with drones has degenerated into candy bars on a string and burrito delivery. The jury is still out on just a case of mild embarrassment or a disgraceful waste of resources.

If you are not willing to get a Part 107 license you have no business in being a drone guy/ girl.The FAAcould not have made it any easier than they did and it constitutes a very low barrier to entry. I am surprised that some folks still believe they just don’t need it. I guess it is up to the FAA to show them the light, or not.

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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).